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Third Skripal Suspect Linked to 2015 Bulgaria Poisoning

February 7, 2019

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Translations: Русский

Bellingcat has determined that a third Russian GRU officer, who was in the United Kingdom at the time of the Skripals’ Novichok poisoning in March 2018, arrived in Bulgaria just days before a local entrepreneur and his son became seriously ill after being poisoned with an unidentified substance.

The third man, a 45-year-old Russian travelling under the alias Sergey Vyacheslavovich Fedotov, has been conclusively identified by Bellingcat as a senior GRU officer. Like the other two Skripal suspects, GRU officers Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin, his cover identity was created in 2010, with no prior records of a person with this name ever existing.

Sergey Fedotov was first identified as a person of interest by the Russian news outlet Fontanka.

Bellingcat and its investigative partner The Insider (Russia) have traced Fedotov’s prodigious travel itinerary since his cover identity was created in 2010 until his last overseas trip to London in March 2018. Over these eight years, “Fedotov” traveled extensively in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, often appearing in hot spots just days before news-making events.

A trip taken by Fedotov to Bulgaria in April 2015, however, stands out due to its eerie resemblance to the circumstances around the Skripals’ poisoning in March 2018.

On April 24, 2015, “Sergey Fedotov” arrived on a flight from Moscow to the Bulgarian seaside resort of Burgas. He had a return flight for a week later, on April 30, from the capital city of Sofia back to Moscow. However, he did not show up for the return flight. Instead, late on the evening of April 28th, he showed up at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport and bought a last-minute ticket to a flight to Moscow.

Earlier that day, a Bulgarian entrepreneur, Emilian Gebrev, was hospitalized after collapsing at a reception he was hosting in Sofia. At around the same time, his adult son and one of the executives at his company fell suddenly ill. All three were hospitalized with symptoms of severe poisoning. Emilian Gebrev’s condition quickly deteriorated and he fell into a coma. Doctors surmised that the poison had been applied or consumed in the day or days preceding April 28. However, as they could not identify the poison, they could not be sure of its effects or mode of progression.

As first reported by Bulgarian weekly Capital, Emilian Gebrev then requested assistance in identifying the poison from two leading laboratories specializing in control of chemical weapons. One of them, Verifin at the University of Helsinki, undertook a thorough analysis. The lab was unable to identify the poison conclusively, but discovered traces of two different organophosphates in Mr. Gebrev’s urine sample: One of these they managed to identify as a strong pesticide, while the other remained unidentifiable with the standard testing tools for chemical weapons.

A month after initially being admitted to hospital, Emilian Gebrev’s status improved substantially and he was released. He told Bellingcat that several days later, in late May, he felt ill once again and was re-admitted to hospital.

Bulgarian businessman Emilian Gebrev. Photo from Capital.bg, used with permission

Notably, on May 24, 2015 “Sergey Fedotov” had returned to Bulgaria on a direct flight from Moscow. He had booked a return flight on May 28, 2015, however he, once again, did not show up for that flight. Two days later, on May 30, he took a flight from neighboring Serbia to Moscow.

The events surrounding “Sergey Fedotov”’s trips to Bulgaria closely match the pattern of his trip to and from the United Kingdom at the time of the Skripal poisoning. Fedotov arrived to London on a flight from Moscow on the same day as the other two GRU officers — these would be Col. Chepiga and Dr. Mishkin — albeit on a different flight. He was scheduled to fly back in the afternoon of March 4, 2018, the day on which the Skripals, both father and daughter, fell ill in Salisbury. However, like in Bulgaria, he did not take the return flight, checking himself out of the airplane several minutes before departure time. Instead, he flew back to Moscow from another European capital a few days later.

Asked if he knew why he might be targeted by the GRU, Mr. Gebrev was at a loss.  One of Bulgaria’s leading entrepreneurs in the defense manufacturing and export industry, he said he could not imagine what might have angered a foreign security agency enough to go after him and his family. At the same time, he admitted that this was most plausible explanation to a an unresolved mystery, as the three-year old Bulgarian investigations into his poisoning has turned up no leads or suspects.

Mr. Gebrev conceded that there may have been two hypothetical reasons why he might have been targeted. One was his company’s exports of specialized defense-related equipment to Ukraine, which he said he conducted in strict compliance with Bulgarian and European regulations. Another hypothesis, he conceded, was possible interest by Russia in a weapons manufacturing plant he controlled that was seen as strategic importance to Bulgaria and NATO.

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20 Comments

    • MARK WILLIAMS

      He’s the guy with a very large paper bag on his head in all the photos released so far, Comrade, but ‘watch this space’ for his true identikit to be revealed shortly….

      Reply
  1. Richard

    There is already a long list of people who ran afoul of the GRU and suddenly died. Its the new Murder Inc. The response of London, nominally responsible to protecting the well being of the residents of Britain, shows that they are more interested in getting illicit Washmachine Roubels into their banks. Competition with the Deutsche Bank is hard!

    Reply
  2. Richard

    (Previous comment not finished)
    Bulgaria is of course in a much weaker position, and stuck between two fronts.

    Reply
  3. Eric

    According to leaked intelligence reports from the US embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria is a regional hub for Kremlin spies, agents and henchmen in Eastern Europe.

    Reply
  4. Black Star

    Russians do have a weakness concerning their sending of murderers abroad: their base of “professionals” is quite small, so they have to use the same murderers again and again. This increases the risk of discovery and when they have been caught, also their previous “operations” come to light.

    They have the same weakness concerning most professionals, for example they use the same pilots in many of their military operations, same officers in many their military campaigns abroad, and so on.

    Reply
    • Servus

      True….UK answer was a vague promis of some future law about invested funds’ origin. « Follow the money «  – in UK politics ; there were reports about generous donations from rich russians living in UK. But its a différent story.

      Reply
    • Servus

      Yes, it looks like it would be enough to pick up Russians that travel a lot in EU and superficially check for person’s existence, and bingo, many GRU agents are identified. And next time one is entering UK, one should search for glowing tea bags, perfumes and after shave with associated heavy duty rubber gloves and of course injections of atropine or pralidoxime or obidoxime, used routinely to stop bleeding from occa

      NATO counter intelligence, do you read this blog .-))))

      Reply
  5. DDTea

    They may have mistaken metabolites of A-234 for metabolites of parathion (a strong pesticide). Both would produce ethyl phosphoric acid as metabolites.

    Reply
  6. concerned citizen

    has bellingcat stopped providing even a semblance of evidence for its claims in its articles now?

    Reply

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