Russia banker gets 10-year ban from Bulgaria spy affair
Sofia on Wednesday banned a Russian billionaire from Bulgaria over an alleged spying conspiracy aimed at turning the country away from its pro-Western orientation and further toward Moscow.
Konstantin Malofeev, 45, an investment banker and media mogul close to the Kremlin, has been banned from entering Bulgaria for 10 years, chief prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov told parliament.
The move follows a similar ban issued Tuesday against a former Russian intelligence officer, Leonid Reshetnikov — and espionage charges against the leader of Bulgaria’s pro-Russia civil movement Rusofili, Nikolay Malinov.
The US Embassy in Sofia said in a statement late Tuesday that it was aware of the espionage investigation.
“The United States fully supports Bulgaria’s efforts to defend its sovereignty from malign influence,” the statement added.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said the probe was not targeting Moscow but stressed that “our geopolitical orientation… is the EU and NATO”.
Bulgaria is a member of both the European Union and NATO.
Prosecutors say Malinov received funds from two Russia-based organisations — the Two-Headed Eagle and the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS) — to push through their interests in Bulgaria.
Malofeev, already the subject of an EU travel ban in 2014 for allegedly funding pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine, heads the Two-Headed Eagle society, where Reshetnikov works as his deputy.
Reshetnikov used to work with the RISS.
In an interview with private bTV television Wednesday, Malinov denied having received any funds from either of the organisations.
He said his Russophile mindset and long-standing close links with Reshetnikov, Malofeev and other Russian officials were always public.
Bulgarian prosecutors have cited a detailed note allegedly written by Malinov in Russian that outlined “a series of political and economical activities and the means to fund them with the aim to change the current orientation of Bulgaria’s internal and foreign politics” away from the West and towards Moscow.
Prosecutors said that Malinov had conspired to facilitate the acquisition by Malofeev of media outlets, an arms production facility, a telecom and other companies in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria was a staunch Soviet satellite during communism before building closer ties with the West. But it has maintained close relations with Russia since the fall of the regime in 1989.