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Skripal poisoning investigation expands to Bulgaria

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By Sandrine Amiel  with Reuters
Salisbury, UK, March 2018
Salisbury, UK, March 2018   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Bulgarian authorities are investigating a possible link between a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in England in 2018 and the poisoning of an arms dealer in Sofia in 2015, Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said on Monday.

Sergei Fedotov, a suspect in the attempted killing of ex-spy Sergei Skripal, visited Bulgaria three times in 2015 and was there that April when local arms dealer Emilian Gebrev was poisoned, according to Tsatsarov.

The investigation into Gebrev’s poisoning was re-opened in October after he informed prosecutors he had reason to believe the substance used on him might have been similar to Novichok, Tsatsarov said.

Former double agent Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury, southern England, in March 2018.

Britain said they were poisoned with Novichok, an agent developed by the Soviet Union, and has accused two other men it says are also officers of Russia's GRU military intelligence service of carrying out the attack.

READ MORE: Two Russians charged in Skripal Novichok poison case

Moscow, which never comments on the identity of GRU staff, has repeatedly denied any involvement in the poisoning, from which both Skripals recovered.

London cooperates with Sofia

In Gebrev's poisoning case, a Finnish laboratory test found no substances from the Chemical Weapons Convention’s banned list, Tsatsarov said. Bulgaria nevertheless sent test results to Britain to check for any Novichok-related links.

London’s ambassador to Sofia, Emma Hopkins, said the UK was “looking into the factual underpinnings of these allegations.”

Last week, the Kremlin questioned the credibility of a report linking the incidents in Britain and Bulgaria. “Why have we found out about this only now? We do not know... whether (this) corresponds with reality at all,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday.

Unlike other EU countries, Bulgaria didn’t expel Russian diplomats last year as details of the Skripal case emerged. It remains to be seen whether the probe impacts the bilateral relation between Moscow and its former Soviet satellite.

READ MORE: What we know about the Russian nerve agent used in spy attack