An investigation is underway in Sofia into how a former Bulgarian MP accused of spying for Russia was able to travel to Moscow to receive an award from the Kremlin despite being under orders not to leave the country.
Nikolai Malinov, a former parliamentarian from the Socialist Party, who also heads two pro-Russian non-governmental organisations in Bulgaria, was accused in September by the Sofia prosecutor’s office of trying to influence Bulgaria’s foreign policy towards Russia and the West.
He was released on bail of 25,000 euros on condition that he remain in the country; however, he managed to obtain special judicial permission to fly to Moscow last week to meet with President Putin, who awarded him with the Order of Friendship for “merit in the cause of peace, friendship, cooperation and mutual respect between peoples.”
Bulgarian Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov warned that the judge who granted Malinov permission to leave the country in violation of his bail conditions will be held accountable.
Speaking to Radio Free Europe, Malinov, who returned to Sofia on Monday, said he had not considered absconding to Russia and that he had talked to President Putin about the espionage charges brought against him. Prosecutors accuse Malinov of collaborating with the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies and other Russian organisations. The Bulgarian authorities maintain that he travelled regularly to Russia to meet with the former head of the study centre, Leonid Reshétnikov, who is also a former general secretary of the secret services who retired in 2009, “to discuss information, some of which was classified.”
Tsatsarov said last month that the information the former Socialist deputy is accused of delivering to Russian organisations affects national security and is an attempt to influence Bulgaria’s foreign policy towards Russia and the West. The Bulgarian authorities banned Reshétnikov from entering the country for a period of ten years. If Malinov is found guilty of the allegations against him he could face a prison sentence of 5 to 15 years.