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Bulgaria Gives Russian Diplomat Suspected Of Espionage 24 Hours To Leave

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The Russian Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital.

SOFIA -- The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry has given a Russian diplomat accused of espionage 24 hours to leave the country after learning that its request for Moscow to recall him by October 28 had not been fulfilled.

The ministry initially had announced that one of Moscow's nine first secretaries at the Russian Embassy in Sofia had left Bulgaria on October 28.

The Russian Embassy on October 30 confirmed receiving the written note declaring the suspected Russian spy was persona non grata and had to leave Bulgaria within 24 hours. The Russian Embassy said its employee would comply with the deadline.

In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksander Grushko said Russia would respond to the expulsion of its embassy employee from Bulgaria.

Neither the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, the Prosecutor-General’s Office in Sofia, nor the Russian Embassy have revealed the name of the suspected spy.

Pretrial proceedings against the Russian Embassy employee were suspended on October 28 on grounds that the suspect had diplomatic immunity.

The Russian suspect allegedly held conspiratorial meetings with high-ranking Bulgarian officials, including one with access to classified information about Bulgaria, NATO, and European Union affairs.

The Prosecutor-General's Office in Sofia said the Russian suspect intended to hand the information to a foreign country.

Bulgaria became a full member of NATO in March 2004 and joined the European Union in 2007.

The case is the first publicly known instance of a Russian Embassy employee being expelled from Bulgaria since 2001, the Bulgarian news website Mediapool reported.

In 2018, Bulgaria did not join its NATO and EU allies in expelling Russian diplomats in response to a nerve-agent attack against a former Russian spy in Britain.

Bulgaria in September charged Nikolai Malinov, a former member of parliament from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) who heads a pro-Russian nongovernmental organization, with spying and laundering money for two Russian organizations.

Bulgarian Prosecutors say Malinov was working with those organizations -- the Double-Headed Eagle Society and the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies -- in an attempt to influence Sofia's foreign policies on the West and Russia.

Sofia has also declared the influential Russian oligarch Konstanin Malofeyev persona non grata, banning him from entering Bulgaria for 10 years in connection with a Russian spy scandal in the Balkan country.

Malofeyev also is banned from entering the European Union and the United States over his support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

With reporting by Mediapool and Reuters
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