Three GRU officers indicted over attempted poisoning of Gebrev
Vassilev’s pawn targeted by Russia because of deals with UkraineMonitor News Agency
Three officers of the Russian military intelligence (formerly known as GRU) have been charged with the attempted murder of arms dealer Emiliyan Gebrev, his son, and a third individual with the initials V.T., the Prosecutor’s Office announced on 23 January. According to an investigation conducted by the website Bellingcat, the defendants are Denis Sergeev (aka Sergey Fedotov), Sergey Lyutenko (aka Sergey Pavlov) and Piotr Borissov (aka Georgi Gorshkov).
The three Russians stand accused of a premediated attempt to murder the individuals injured in the case in a way and with means that presented a threat to the life of many. The crime was committed between 28 April and 4 May 2015 in Sofia through an unidentified substance from the group of organophosphates. The Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office has issued European-wide arrest warrants for the three defendants as well as requests for international wanted status with the goal of arrest and subsequent extradition. Additionally, the three suspects have been entered into the databases of the Schengen Information System and the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) with Red Notice.
Shortly after the Prosecutor’s Office press release, investigative journalist Hristo Grozev posted on Twitter that the three GRU officers were charged following revelations made by Bellingcat. Grozev is part of the team of the website which first reported that an elite clandestine unit of the Russian military intelligence is behind the attempted assassination of the arms dealer Emiliyan Gebrev, who for the past several years has served as a pawn of the indicted banker hiding in Belgrade Tsvetan Vassilev. The financial fraudster and Gebrev have been acting together in a bid to steal the military plant Dunarit, bought with CorpBank depositors’ money, under the nose of the state. As their efforts were going nowhere, the two devised a scheme to put Gebrev in control of the plant and syphon it off to the benefit of Vassilev and his Russian mentors, including Kremlin oligarch Konstantin Malofeev. The latter was even banned from entering Bulgaria for a period of 10 years after prosecutors uncovered a Kremlin plan to interfere in domestic affairs ordered by Malofeev and former Russian ambassador Leonid Reshetnikov and entrusted upon another dubious player linked to Vassilev – Nikolay Malinov, head of the National Movement “Russophiles”.
Despite all these Russian connections, about a year ago Gebrev tried to exploit his attempted poisoning by spreading the theory that the reason for the attack against him was the military plant Dunarit. But the truth was revealed by Bellingcat and the Prosecutor’s Office, who identified the reason for the attempted assassination of Gebrev as arms deals struck with Ukraine long before he joined the gang trying to take control of Dunarit.
According to a joint investigation carried out by Bellingcat, The Insider and Der Spiegel, a team of eight officers of Unit 29155 of the Russian military intelligence (formerly known as GRU) were behind the poisoning of Gebrev in 2015. Several months ago these media outlets were able to find the real names and the aliases of the Unit 29155 agents. The investigative journalists say that the pieces of the puzzle started to come together after 28 April 2015 when Emiliyan Gebrev experienced a burning sensation in his eyes. His vision deteriorated and he started seeing brightly coloured stripes as if on an old TV screen. Several minutes later he lost consciousness. Fortunately, there were people nearby – it all transpired during a reception Gebrev was holding for his partners. The entrepreneur was rushed to hospital. His son experienced almost identical symptoms in a completely different part of the city, as did the manager of Gebrev’s company, who was on a third location. The only thing in common was that all three of them were at the company office that morning located in the Orbit Hotel in Sofia.
Later (in 2019) investigators, going through footage from the hotel’s parking lot security cameras, identified GRU officer Denis Sergeev (aka Sergey Fedotov). The footage was sent to the FBI for facial recognition at the request of the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office. According to Bellingcat, the parking lot video reveals images of the same Sergeev who arrived in the UK together with “Boshirov” and “Petrov” on the day that Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer who acted as a double agent for the UK, and his daughter were poisoned. A laboratory with the University of Helsinki specialised in testing for chemical weapons detected traces of organophosphates in the blood samples of Gebrev, which indicated an attempt for the arms dealer to be killed with a neuroparalytic substance of the Novichok family. The questions about who was behind the assassination attempt answered themselves. As The Insider, Bellingcat and Der Spiegel were able to ascertain, Sergeev was not the only perpetrator – the evidence point to at least eight GRU agents having been involved in the operation.
Judging by flight records, the group of poisoners travelled to Bulgaria three times. The first time (this was either the first attempt or part of the preparation process) was in February 2015. At first, only three of the group entered the country – Sergey Fedotov (real name Denis Sergeev), Sergey Pavlov (Sergey Lyutenko) and Georgi Gorshkov (Piotr Borissov). They were in Bulgaria for a week, from 15 until 22 February, before getting replaced by another trio: Ivan Lebedev (Ivan Terentiev), Nikolay Kononihin (Nikolay Ezhov) and Alexei Nikitin (Alexei Kalinin). They also stayed about a week (from 26 February until 8 March). Those three were replaced by Vladimir Popov (Vladimir Moiseev) known for his participation in the failed coup attempt in Montenegro. He spent in Bulgaria five days – from 6 until 11 March.
The group’s second visit to the country was for the actual attempt at poisoning. Fedotov, Pavlov and Gorshkov arrived on 24 April and left on the day of the attempted assassination – 28 April. The third time, Fedotov returned accompanied by Danil Stepanov (Danil Kapralov) on 23 May. They spent a week in the country and were joined by Gorshkov for the last two days. It is unclear whether this is a coincidence or not, but in May Gebrev felt ill again and was taken to hospital. It is interesting to note that Danil Kapralov, in addition to his GRU training, is a qualified doctor (which ties him to Alexander Petrov (Alexander Mishkin) – one of the people responsible for the poisoning of Skripal in Salisbury, England).
According to intelligence operatives cited by The New York Times in an article published in the last days of 2019 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. Following the assassination attempt, however, Gebrev changed course and became part of the group trying to take control of Dunarit. The media outlet cites a secret memo written around the same time that Gebrev tried to buy Dunarit (and since made public by Bulgarian prosecutors – editor’s note), which 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.
In a bTV interview given on 15 December, 2019 Gebrev effectively confirmed the deal with Ukraine but tried to downplay it by saying it was only “a tenth of the exports” recorded by his company EMKO. At the same time, as soon as the news of his hospitalisation broke, the talk in the weapons industry was that that deal might be the reason for the attempted assassination of Gebrev. The arms dealer is desperately trying to refute or simply brush this hypothesis under the rug because it does not serve his interests – his and those of his partner Tsvetan Vassilev.
The financial fraudster activates his “press office” against Peevski
A new series of attempts to take control of the military plant Dunarit was set in motion by the tandem of Tsvetan Vassilev and Emiliyan Gebrev in the first days of 2020. The model in play is familiar – to use capital increase as a trick to skirt around the distraints imposed on the military plant’s stocks at the requests of the National Revenue Agency and the Anti-Corruption Commission for Illegal Assets Forfeiture (ACCIAF), which essentially protect it from being stolen under the nose of the state.
After it became clear on 22 January that their aspirations have been halted by a panel of judges at the Rousse District Court, Tsvetan Vassilev activated his unofficial press office – the website Frognews, which he funds and which is owned by former State Security agent Ognyan Stefanov. As is tradition, the article targets the main enemy of the behind-the-scenes clique in Bulgaria – lawmaker of the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms and Telegraph Media publisher Delyan Peevski. In an effort to pull wool over the eyes of the public, Frognews picked up its old mantra (disproved by facts and evidence on numerous occasions) that Peevski is allegedly interested in Dunarit.
However, the truth is that Vassilev and Gebrev are the ones interested in Dunarit and they are prepared to lie shamelessly to seize it. For years the duo has been trying to plant in the public consciousness a fabricated connection between Dunarit and the poisoning of the arms dealer Gebrev. This is done in order to pressure the state and draw attention away from the fact that for the past over two years Gebrev has been completely illegally in control of the military plant, which was funded with tens of millions by CorpBank and which takes NATO weaponry orders, giving Tsvetan Vassilev and his Russian mentor Konstantin Malofeev access to classified NATO information. On 25 February 2015, Belgian with Kremlin passport Pierre Louvrier, a figurehead for Konstantin Malofeev and Tsvetan Vassilev, was registered as manager of Kemira, Dunarit’s sole owner. Louvrier remained on that position until May 2015. Following the failure of the “€1 gang”, as the so-called investment group headed by the Belgian became known in Bulgaria, another figurehead for Malofeev, Russian Dmitry Kosarev, entered the picture late in 2015. It was only after that second attempt to seize Dunarit crashed and burned that Gebrev joined the scheme in 2016.