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Bulgaria Expelling Two Russian Diplomats Over Espionage

Updated

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva (file photo)

Bulgaria is expelling two unnamed Russian diplomats accused of involvement in spying in the Balkan country.

The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry says it summoned the Russian ambassador to Sofia on January 24 and handed him a note declaring the two diplomats -- a consular first secretary and an official at Russia's trade representation -- personae non gratae.

Both were given 48 hours to leave the country, the ministry says.

The Russian Embassy says the two men will leave Bulgaria but insists that “no evidence confirming their activities incompatible with their status were presented."

"Russia reserves the right to take tit-for-tat measures," it says in a statement.

Bulgaria, a loyal Moscow ally during communist times, became a member of NATO in 2004 and joined the European Union in 2007.

Earlier in the day, the Prosecutor-General's Office said that both men collected "state secrets in order to transfer it to a foreign state or organization."

One of the two diplomats collected information on Bulgaria's election process, while the other was spying on the EU member state's energy sector and energy-security measures, the office said in a statement.

The statement said a pretrial investigation of the two had begun, adding that they could not be charged due to diplomatic immunity.

In a separate case on January 23, Bulgarian prosecutors announced charges in absentia against three Russians for the attempted murder of a weapons manufacturer, his son, and the production manager of the company.

The Sofia city prosecutor's office said the three unidentified suspects intentionally attempted to poison the victims "by intoxication with an unidentified phosphorus-organic substance."

Prosecutors said the crimes were committed between April 28, 2015, and May 4, 2015, and targeted Emilian Gebrev, owner of EMCO Ltd., his son, Hristo Gebrev, and manager Valentin Takhchiev. All three survived the attacks.

In a statement on January 24, the U.S. Embassy in Sofia said that it "commended" Bulgaria's recent actions "to defend the country's independence and sovereignty from malign influence."

It cited the announcement of the expulsion of the two Russians for espionage and the announcement of charges against the three others for attempted murder.

With reporting by Reuters, Interfax, and TASS
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