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Bulgaria Charges Former Lawmaker With Spying For Russia

Nikolai Malinov
Nikolai Malinov

SOFIA -- Nikolai Malinov, a former parliamentary deputy from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) who now heads a pro-Russian nongovernmental organization, has been formally charged in Sofia with spying and laundering money for Russian organizations.

Bulgaria's Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov announced the charges against Malinov on September 10, saying Malinov could face a prison sentence of five to 15 years if convicted.

Malinov was released from custody on September 10 after posting bail of 25,000 euros ($27,600). He has been banned from leaving Bulgaria, Tsatsarov said.

Malinov is accused of accepting payments for transferring Bulgarian state secrets to two Russian organizations -- the Double-Headed Eagle Society and the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.

Tsatsarov said the information Malinov was accused of delivering to the Russian groups directly affected Bulgaria's national security and was part of an attempt to exert influence on the Bulgarian government's foreign policy toward Russia and the West.

In connection with the case, authorities in Sofia have also imposed a 10-year ban on the entry into Bulgaria by Leonid Reshetnikov, a former Soviet and Russian Foreign Intelligence Service agent who retired in 2009 from Russia's secret services as a lieutenant general.

Reshetnikov, a Russian citizen who speaks fluent Bulgarian and Serbian, was the director of the influential Russian Institute for Strategic Studies from 2009 to 2017.

That organization is best-known in the West for allegedly developing a strategy that attempted to manipulate the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in favor of Donald Trump, according to allegations U.S. officials made to Reuters in April 2017.

Authorities in Sofia on September 10 alleged that Reshetnikov had coordinated recent Russian espionage operations in Bulgaria aimed at reorienting the Balkan country, a member of both NATO and the EU, back toward the Kremlin's orbit.

Reshetnikov on September 10 said in a Facebook post that Malinov was a "Bulgarian patriot" and that the charges were filed against him because "the Americans have launched Operation Russian Spies in Bulgaria."

Bulgarian prosecutors on September 10 also announced that they were investigating Malinov's ties to Russian media mogul Konstantin Malofeyev, as well as his links with Tsvetan Vassilev, the exiled former chief of the now-defunct Bulgarian Corporate Commercial Bank.

Malofeyev is banned from entering the European Union and the United States for his role in the destabilization of Ukraine.

Ukraine in 2014 also launched a criminal investigation into Malofeyev for his alleged funding of pro-Russian "illegal military groups" in eastern Ukraine that have been fighting against Ukrainian government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.

Tsatsarov said Bulgarian investigators had collected evidence of Malinov's "direct involvement" in "the transmission of information protected by law" to Russia's Double-Headed Eagle Society and the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.

Tsatsarov did not specify the amount of the payments Malinov is alleged to have accepted and laundered from Russian contacts.

But the Bulgarian prosecutor said criminal money-laundering charges faced by Malinov were related to funds sent directly to him and that were funneled through the pro-Russian nongovernmental organization that he heads, National Movement Russophiles.

The state secrets that Malinov is alleged to have given to the Russian organizations included details about Bulgarian political life and "the work of Bulgarian state bodies," Tsatsarov said.

Bulgarian Deputy Prosecutor Ivan Geshev said on September 10 that the investigation involved 11 searches and that evidence seized by the authorities included documents and mobile telephones.

Geshev said one seized phone contained a text message written in Russian by Malinov that outlined a plan for "the necessary geopolitical reorientation of Bulgaria" toward Moscow.

Malinov was detained on September 9 for questioning by Bulgaria's National Investigation Service.

Also detained for questioning on September 9 was Yuri Borisov, the secretary of Malinov's Russophile organization and the former editor in chief of the daily Duma newspaper, the successor to Bulgaria's Soviet-era communist propaganda newspaper that maintains close ties to the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Russia.

Borisov has not been formally charged in the case.

RFE/RL has learned that other key figures in Malinov's National Movement Russophiles have also been questioned as part the investigation but have not been charged.

They include Chief Secretary Kristina Ivanova, Deputy Chairman Milen Chakarov, Honorary Chairman Encho Moskov, and a university professor, Vanya Dobreva.

Also questioned was Bulgarian sociologist Zhivko Georgiev.

Georgiev told Bulgaria's daily newspaper 24 Hours that the authorities questioned him about his relationship with Malinov and Reshetnikov.

He said he was also asked to explain how he wrote a strategic political report in 2016 that was funded by the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies and allegedly contributed to the election of Bulgarian President Rumen Radev.

Radev called the spy scandal "absurd," saying he was "elected with the votes of 2 million Bulgarian voters" and that the case was "offensive to all these people."

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