02 March 2024 / 14:10 RU

    Bellingcat: New Details Emerge in GRU's Failed Murder Attempts in Bulgaria

    According to Bellingcat, in a series of previous investigations, we identified eight officers from the GRU’s clandestine overseas operations unit (an elite sub-unit of Military Unit 29155) who traveled under fake identities to Bulgaria in late 2014 and early 2015 in batches of two or three people each time. The timing of the last two trips of these groups of spies coincided with two severe poisoning incidents in April and May of that year involving a Bulgarian arms manufacturer, his son, and the production chief of his group of plants. In 2015, the poisonings had remained unresolved. A privately-commissioned analysis study at a OPCW-certified lab in Finland had found traces of an unknown substance from the organophoshate family.

    Bellingcat claims that one of the GRU spies present in Bulgaria during both poisonings was “Sergey Fedotov”, the cover identity of Denis Sergeev, a GRU Major General who was also in the UK during the 2018 attempt on the lives of Sergey Skripal and his daughter.

    Following our disclosures and a request by the victim, in 2019 Bulgarian investigative authorities re-opened the cold case from 2015. They subsequently indicted three of the GRU officers and placed them on the Interpol Red Notice list. These three indicted men were Maj. Gen. Denis Sergeev (“Sergey Fedotov”), Lt. Col. Sergey Lyutenko (“Sergey Pavlov”), and Col. Egor Gordienko (“Georgy Gorshkov”).

    Investigators from Bellingcat discovered that following the failed assassination attempt, Egor Gordienko had been deployed to Geneva as a senior Russian diplomat where he served until the end of 2018.

    Bulgarian authorities also released surveillance footage showing one of the three – presumably Denis Sergeev – wearing a disguise and approaching several cars in an underground garage where the poison victims’ cars had been parked.

    On 26 August 2020, Bulgaria’s prosecution office suspended the criminal proceedings against the three indicted suspects. The reasons given in the decision were the impossibility to proceed with fact-finding in the absence of detained suspects, and long delays in obtaining international legal assistance from third countries. While this step doesn’t imply a termination of the criminal proceedings, it means that the case will remain “frozen” for the foreseeable future.

    Investigative team, including Bellingcat and The Insider Russia, has obtained a copy of the suspension decision which contains a summary of Bulgarian investigators’ findings, many of which are previously unknown to the public. These shed more light on whom exactly the GRU targeted for assassination, as well as on the course of events surrounding the poisoning attempts including the time between exposure to the poison and the onset of the first symptoms. Paired with new booking and travel data obtained by our investigative team, these findings shed more light on the modus operandi of the GRU’s elite kill team.

    These new findings may be particularly relevant in the context of the disclosure that the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was also caused by exposure to a substance from the Novichok family. The findings also showcase the extreme recklessness of this assassination method which exposes random people to the deadly substance – as seen both in the case with Gebrev’s son and in the death of Dawn Sturgess in 2018.

    We have also obtained new data on the interaction of Bulgarian investigators with international bodies like the OPCW, the Finnish laboratory, and Finnish investigative authorities, which suggest that not all all avenues for fact-finding have been explored in full, and some efforts may have been blocked by third parties for unclear reasons. In addition, we note that the role of at least one accessory to the crime has not been investigated despite credible evidence of his involvement.


    10 September 2020 / 12:35

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