Website names GRU suspect in Skripal, Bulgaria poisonings
LONDON: Investigative website Bellingcat on Thursday (Feb 14) identified a suspected Russian military intelligence officer who was in Britain during the Salisbury chemical attack and might also be linked to a 2015 poisoning in Bulgaria.
The group had earlier named two other Russians that Britain blames for trying to kill former double agent Sergei Skripal in March as Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga.
Bellingcat first revealed the existence of a possible third GRU suspect in Skripal’s case last week.
It said on Thursday that it had now finished a full investigations that “conclusively” identify him as Sergeev.
Both Bellingcat and UK officials believe the first two entered Britain on false passports issued by the GRU under instructions from senior Russian officials.
London and Washington now identify the GRU as the main Russian security threat to Western interests abroad.
US investigators believe GRU agents hacked the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election campaign that led to Donald Trump’s elections.
They have also been blamed for a bungled plot to hack the world’s chemical weapons watchdog in the Netherlands during its investigations into Syrian nerve agent attacks.
Investigators in Bulgaria are now asking whether the GRU was also involved in a case in 2015 that nearly killed a local arms manufacturer named Emiliyan Gebrev.
His son and another company executives also developed symptoms of severe poisoning.
Gebrev fell into a coma but survived and all three later recovered. Suspects in the apparent poisoning attempt were never found and the investigation was closed.
But Bulgarian officials re-opened it after the UK scientists identified the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok as the chemical that nearly killed Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
British police refused to confirm whether they had a third suspect in the Salisbury case in which Moscow has denied any involvement.
“The investigation team continues to pursue a number of lines of enquiry, including identifying any other suspects who may have been involved in carrying out or planning the attack,” British police said in a statement provided to AFP.
‘INVOLVEMENT OF RUSSIAN STATE’
Bellingcat said Sergeev used a false Russian passport to enter Britain two days before Skripal and his daughter were found slumped over unconscious on a Salisbury park bench on Mar 4.
British investigators believe the other two Russians flew into London the same day.
Bellingcat said all three booked the same Mar 4 flight out of London. It said Sergeev checked in but missed the flight and returned to Moscow via Rome that day.
CCTV footage showed Mishkin and Chepiga walking towards Skripal’s home in Salisbury shortly before he and his daughter fell ill.
Sergeev did not feature in that footage. Mishkin and Chepiga later told Russian television that they went to Salisbury on vacation.
Bellingcat said Sergeev visited Bulgaria in February and April 2015.
His second trip ended the same day the arms manufacturer “collapsed during a dinner event with his trading partners from Poland at an upscale Sofia restaurant,” Bellingcat said.
Bellingcat said it could not confirm whether the new suspected GRU agent was in Salisbury around the time of Skripal’s poisoning.
But it said that “in the last two months, Russian authorities have taken the unusual measure of erasing any public records of the existence of Denis Sergeev, as well as of Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin.”
“These unprecedented actions cannot plausibly be taken without direct involvement of the Russian state,” Bellingcat said.
Russian officials did not immediately respond to Bellingcat’s new findings.