Russia recalls diplomat from Bulgaria in espionage affair

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Russia recalled the first secretary from its embassy in Sofia after a prosecution probe found that he had spied in the EU member country, Bulgarian officials said Monday.

Bulgaria requested in a meeting with the Russian ambassador on Friday for the diplomat to be recalled after a specialized prosecution probe confirmed accusations of spying against the man.

“The foreign ministry has information that the person in question already left Bulgaria,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Prosecutors said that for almost a year since September 2018 the Russian embassy’s first secretary “conducted intelligence work through regular conspirative meetings.”

The meetings were with Bulgarian citizens, including with a high-ranking official with access to classified information on Bulgaria, the EU and NATO, the prosecution said in a statement.

The probe confirmed that “the aim of the meetings was the acquisition of information that constituted a state secret, including through proposals for material benefits,” it said.

It added that his diplomatic immunity prevented prosecutors from indicting him “despite the evidence”, prompting them to suspend the probe and refer the findings to Bulgaria’s foreign ministry last Friday.

Bulgaria, a staunch Soviet satellite during communism, has largely maintained its close historical, cultural and also economic ties with Russia since the fall of the communist regime in 1989.

Last year, the NATO and EU member refused to expel Russian diplomats over the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain in March 2018.

But tensions between Sofia and Moscow boiled up this September when Bulgarian prosecutors charged a pro-Russian activist with espionage and banned his alleged Russian handler, as well as a Russian billionaire banker, from entering Bulgaria.

Sofia had already been embroiled in an espionage affair with Moscow back in 2001 when three Russian diplomats were expelled from Sofia after two Bulgarian military intelligence officials were arrested trying to hand over secret documents over the fence of the Russian embassy.

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