Hristo Grozev from Bellingcat: Gebrev was not poisoned because of Dunarit

The most likely reason is Tsvetan Vassilev’s partner’s arms trade with Ukraine

Emiliyan Gebrev

The theory about Dunarit (as the reason behind the attempted poisoning of Emiliyan Gebrev) is rather unlikely. This is what journalist Hristo Grozev, who is part of the team behind the Dutch investigative website Bellingcat, recently told bTV. In his opinion, the assassination attempt was possibly motivated by Russia’s displeasure over certain trade operations conducted by Gebrev.

Grozev essentially confirms the revelations made by the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office that Gebrev, an arms dealer and an associate of fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev who stole BGN 5-6bn through the CorpBank pyramid before fleeing to Serbia, was poisoned because of arms deliveries to the Ministry of Internal Affairs – National Guard of Ukraine and not because of the military plant Dunarit. This is the latest blow to the lies being spread by Emiliyan Gebrev and the financial fraudster’s puppet media outlets in Bulgaria – that the arms dealer’s poisoning was connected to the plant. Those lies were also categorically disproven by The New York Times (see text box) at the end of December of last year. Grozev is adamant that the motive behind the attack against Gebrev can be tied to an arms deal with Ukraine.

“The Russians never rush into action. It took months, if not years of preparation. So it is possible that the incident can be traced back to operations that angered some of Gebrev’s competitors who had direct communication channels to Moscow, but that is a question for the investigative authorities,” Grozev added. He is confident that “one of the operations carried out by a group of eight former GRU officers (as the country’s military intelligence was called during the USSR era) was certainly related to Gebrev”. The aforementioned eight operatives often visited Bulgaria in between 2014 and 2015 in groups of two or three, sometimes solo, which coincides with the timeline of Gebrev’s poisoning. Senior GRU officer Sergei Fedotov, who was linked to the Sergei Skripal poisoning in the UK, took a hotel room with unobstructed view of the parking lot of Gebrev’s company Emko just days before he was hospitalised, the Prosecutor’s Office disclosed several months ago.

Some of the individuals on the eight-man team were involved in other poisonings with similar substances – in the UK. “We are currently looking into a possible operation of theirs in Switzerland,” Grozev added. He shared how the Russian agents put poisonous substances on the door handles of their targets’ vehicles. Theoretically, the same may have happened in Bulgaria. Maybe the poison used against Gebrev was put on the door handle of a car, but the only evidence to this method is a publication in The New York Times, Grozev continued.

The deadly GRU team travels with fake passports listing their alternate identities, given to them following the completion of a training process, Bellingcat’s investigation ascertained.

“Our analysis shows that the group was set up in 2009. Until 2011 it was travelling primarily in former USSR republics – obviously they trained in those places. In 2011 they started travelling to eastern Europe. It was not until 2014 that they dared to go to western Europe,” Grozev explained. According to him, the investigative journalists are aware of the group’s botched operations, not its successful ones. Its structure is very tight, at the top of it standing Gen. Andrey Averyanov, who communicated directly with the Kremlin, Grozev revealed, noting that Averyanov was not that low on the chain of command and had ties to high-ranking people in office in Russia. The journalist added that GRU had a laboratory for poisons in Saint Petersburg.

New York Times: Oligarch Malofeev wanted to acquire plant

“For years, members of a secret team (of the Russian military intelligence), Unit 29155, operated without Western security officials having any idea about their activities. But an attack on an arms dealer in Sofia helped blow their cover,” writes The New York Times in a lengthy article on the topic entitled “How a Poisoning in Bulgaria Exposed Russian Assassins in Europe”, published 22 December 2019. According to security officials cited by The New York Times, Gebrev was likely targeted because of the ways in which his business angered the Kremlin: his arms exports for Ukraine, his company establishing its presence in markets long dominated by Russia, and his efforts to buy an arms production plant that Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev wanted for himself.

At first, the Bulgarian authorities could not solve the mystery of who tried to poison the arms dealer. Obviously, they did not even know about the existence of Unit 29155. The same applied to the intelligence and security agencies in the rest of Europe, The New York Times continues. It reveals that Russia’s so-called Orthodox oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, a friend of fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev, wanted to acquire Dunarit. A secret memo written around the same time that Gebrev tried to buy Dunarit (and since made public by Bulgarian prosecutors – editor’s note) detailed a Russian plan to transfer Dunarit to the oligarch, Konstantin Malofeev. The US and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Malofeev for funding Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, as the influential newspaper notes. Malofeev and former GRU general Leonid Reshetnikov have been banned from entering Bulgaria for a period of 10 years, a measure imposed in September 2019. The Bulgarian prosecutors officially stated that as of April 2015 “Emiliyan Gebrev (had not taken) steps towards acquiring Dunarit, which makes any assertions to the contrary and citing such steps as reason for the attempted assassination groundless”. The Prosecutor’s Office also announced that weapons exports to Ukraine may be the reason for the arms dealer’s poisoning.

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