Prosecutor General: No evidence Gebrev was poisoned with Novichok
Boyko Borissov meets with UK ambassador to Sofia, H.E. Emma Hopkins to discuss the caseMonitor News Agency , Sofia
There is no evidence to suggest that businessman Emiliyan Gebrev was poisoned with the same substance as Skripal. Blood and urine tests did not detect traces of the so-called Novichok nerve agent. The tests were conducted by an independent private Finish laboratory and Bulgarian forensic medicine experts. A GRU agent involved in the Skripal case was in Bulgaria on three separate occasions. Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov reported all of this following a meeting with Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
The premier held an emergency meeting with the ambassador of the United Kingdom to Sofia, H.E. Emma Hopkins, at the Council of Ministers’ headquarters to discuss the alleged poisoning of businessman Emiliyan Gebrev, owner of the military plant Dunarit. The meeting was also attended by Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov, Minister of Interior Mladen Marinov and Secretary General of the Ministry of Interior Ivaylo Ivanov.
“We had a very productive meeting and discussed information relating to the alleged intervention and attempted poisoning of Mr Emiliyan Gebrev. For several months, we have been working closely with the Bulgarian authorities and investigative services,” said Ambassador Hopkins. She explained that details of the investigation cannot be disclosed because the process of gathering evidence is ongoing and that statements will be made when enough information has been collected.
“Over the past two weeks, there were numerous media reports on a certain incident involving Mr Gebrev. Some of these reports were accompanied by facts and some were full of speculations in line with the editorial policies of the respective publications. Today, we had a meeting to discuss issues that have been investigated for a long time,” said Tsatsarov. According to the prosecutor general, an agreement was signed between the Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Interior and the State Agency for National Security (SANS).
He continued, “On 28 April 2015 Emiliyan Gebrev, after a meeting with foreign business partners [from Poland] at the Kempinski Zografski Hotel, felt ill and was taken by his driver to the Military Medical Academy (VMA) to receive medical attention. On 29 and 30 April 2015, a director in his company became in the same condition and was initially taken to Tokuda Hospital before he was eventually treated in the Pirogov emergency medical centre. On 1 October 2015, the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office opened an attempted murder case and gave the investigation to the Sofia Directorate of the Ministry of Interior. On 4 May 2015, Gebrev’s son was hospitalised in the VMA exhibiting similar symptoms. As part of the pretrial proceedings at the time, all possible samples of traces of chemical substances were collected during searches, including of cars, Mr Gebrev’s home, offices of the company EMKO, etc. A wide range of expert reports were commissioned and the entire available documentation kept by the medical institutions was seized. The conducted tests for toxins and chemicals revealed that the probes from the coffee from the coffee machine in Gebrev’s house and the available organic sample (the food vomited by his son) contained traces of chlorpyrifos – a highly-toxic insecticide used to protect crops from insect pests. Under investigation were all possible theories, including whether the food consumed in the restaurant of the Kempinski Zografski Hotel contained chlorpyrifos. It was established that there was chlorpyrifos in the arugula leaves in the salad ordered by Mr Gebrev and his partners but it was in extremely small quantity. This was abandoned as a possible explanation of the incident, since the quantity of the insecticide was not enough to cause the observed severe effects. The expert report showed severe case of organic phosphorus compounds. On 4 April 2016, the criminal investigation was closed after the culprit was not found. On 11 October 2018, I received a letter from Mr Gebrev, written on an EMKO form.” Tsatsarov further explained that the letter said that an attack on Skripal and his daughter was committed in the UK. “I have reason to believe that the poison used against us is of the Novichok category,” wrote Gebrev, suggesting that the investigation should be reopened and that the UK and other security services should be informed. On 12 October, the Sofia Directorate was asked to provide its files on the terminated probe and on 15 October it was reopened at the request of the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office. An agreement was signed between the prosecutor general, the interior minister and the head of SANS, under which a joint team, including Sofia Directorate police officers, investigators, SANSA agents, was set up to investigate the case under the supervision of the prosecutor monitoring the case, explained Tsatsarov. “Essentially, this is the first time that we have signed an agreement to set up a joint investigative team not for a group of cases but for one particular case,” he noted. According to Tsatsarov, 13 witnesses have been interrogated so far.
“After the resumption of the lawsuit, Mr Gebrev for the first time admitted under interrogation before the investigating officer and supervising prosecutor that immediately after the incident a test was commissioned to a Finnish laboratory for which he himself paid. Until then it was absolutely unknown that the blood and urine tests transported via VMA Sofia have been made by this laboratory in Finland. These facts were presented to the investigating institutions for the first time. Immediately after, the results of the tests were requested by VMA and it proved that they had been made by the Verifin verification laboratory albeit as a privately ordered test paid by Mr Gebrev. We avail of all the tests’ results. The tests were made on 5-18 June of 2016 and are based on urine samples of people admitted to VMA clinic, namely Mr Gebrev and his son. The results confirm traces of organophosphorus compounds. There were two research areas - the compounds which affect the nervous system and the organophosphorus compounds. The tests detected traces of organophosphorus compounds present in certain pesticides. The laboratory could not specify the name of the pesticide but attached a list of potential substances having this effect. The conclusion was made that in the urine samples two phosphorus-containing compounds have been found. According to the Finnish laboratory, no substances mentioned in the list of the Chemical Weapons Convention have been traced, Tsatsarov explained.
After the resumption of the investigation, the European Investigation Order was issued. It was addressed to the relevant British authorities and the whole body of information was made available to them. “In practice, the issue posed in this European Investigation Order is whether these substances correspond or can be somehow related to the agent known as Novichok or any agents resembling it. The Order was sent to Great Britain in December of 2018. Apart from that, a letter was sent to them on the basis of which cooperation has been requested from the British police under the circumstances when they are forced to work beyond the British territory,” Prosecutor General pointed out. Tsatsarov was adamant that the relevant services are working in perfect synchrony.
“All claims and suggestions that the case has been sidetracked and the Bulgarian services and prosecutor’s office did not work on it are not true, to say the least, I leave them to the conscience of their authors,” Tsatsarov said further. The British authorities have made public the identity of three officers of the Russian intelligence service, GRU, who are allegedly involved into the poisoning of the Skripals. Two of them are the immediate perpetrators while the third one is a purported accomplice.
“In the course of the investigations it has been stated that the first two have not entered the territory of Bulgaria within the last decade. The third person working under alias Sergey Fedotov has visited Bulgaria three times. The first time he came by plane on 5 February 2015 and left the country again by plane 22 February 2015. The second time he again came by plane via Burgas airport on 24 April 2015 and left the country by plane on 28 April 2015 at 8.21 p.m. The third time when Fedotov visited Bulgaria was on 23 May 2015 via Sofia airport, while he left Bulgaria together with another Russian citizen by car heading for Serbia,” Tsatsarov explained.
“These are the two leads – one is criminal connected with the attempt at poisoning of Mr Gebrev and his son and the other is connected with a certain Russian citizen, of whom there is information that he visited Bulgaria. His first trip to Bulgaria coincides with the first Gebrev’s incident. So far, the Prosecutor’s Office and SANS have been working towards finding out what Fedotov’s itinerary was and where he stayed in Bulgaria, i.e. in what hotels he slept, what vehicles he used and whom of the Bulgarian citizens he contacted. From the very start, on 11 October 2018, to the present days many actions have been taken in full coordination between the Bulgarian and British partners,” the Prosecutor General said.
Minister of Interior Mladen Mladenov explained that by 30 April 2015, when he was the director of the Sofia Directorate and a signal was received that Gebrev was hospitalised in VMA they started working on the case at once. “The Skripals poisoning has not happened yet by that moment, so we shifted into gear all facts and circumstances both those in support of the lead that it was a malicious act and those which alleged that it was a domestic poisoning. A pre-trial procedure was launched against an unknown perpetrator,” Marinov explained. The officers are working in full synchrony to clarify all facts concerning both the poisoning and the stay of this Russian citizen on the territory of Bulgaria, the Interior Minister said further.