Five people living across the UK — including two friendly neighbours who often gave pies and cakes as gifts to the community — have been detained on suspicion of engaging in espionage on behalf of Russia.
London’s Metropolitan Police this week revealed four people — two men aged 31 and 42, and two women aged 29 and 32 — were detained in the British capital several months ago.
The fifth — a 45-year-old man — was held at an address on the Norfolk coast in eastern England.
While none of the five was charged under the Official Secrets Act, three of them – Orlin Roussev, 45, Bizer Dzhambazov, 41, and Katrin Ivanova, 32, were charged with “possession of falsified identity documents with illicit intent.”
The fabricated documents included passports and identity cards linked to the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, and the Czech Republic, according to UK authorities.
Both Dzhambazov, a hospital worker, and Ivanova, a laboratory assistant, migrated to the UK a decade ago and had built a friendly relationship with their neighbours, according to an anonymous source speaking to the BBC.
The couple had reportedly brought around pies and cakes as gifts to the community.
The pair also operated a community initiative designed to assist fellow Bulgarians in acclimatising to the “customs and conventions of British society”.
Mr Roussev, on the other hand, reportedly maintained a professional association with Russia over an extended period. Having relocated to the UK in 2009, he has been employed within the financial services sector.
On his LinkedIn profile, he indicates involvement in a business specialising in signals intelligence, specifically the interception of electronic communications.
Authorities have refrained from commenting on whether the Bulgarian suspects are implicated in Russian espionage.
This development follows a court revelation involving a Scottish security guard stationed at the British embassy in Berlin.
The individual, identified as David Ballantyne Smith, acknowledged gathering classified information concerning the UK for the purpose of espionage on behalf of Russia.
His motivations were cited as intending to inflict harm upon the UK. Smith pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act, raising further legal debate regarding his motivations.
Smith purportedly received a significant sum of money in exchange for sharing confidential and sensitive information while employed as a security guard at the British embassy in Berlin.
Prosecutor Alison Morgan KC contended that Smith’s actions were “motivated by a deliberate intention to harm the United Kingdom”.
The director-general of MI5, Richard Moore, revealed that more than 400 suspected Russian intelligence operatives operating under diplomatic cover were expelled from Europe in 2022.
“We reckon in the UK that has probably reduced their ability to do their business to spy for Russian in Europe by half,” he told UK publication LBC.
In February this year, Australia uncovered and expelled a large Russian spy ring posing as diplomats Down Under. The spies allegedly operated undercover as embassy and consular staff and were discovered after an 18 month operation carried out by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
The spies were quietly forced out of Australia over the past six months by not renewing or cancelling their visas.
ASIO’s head, Mike Burgess, described the “major” spy network as a “hive” and revealed it in the agency’s annual report.
The exact numbers of those exposed as spies have not been released.
“Proxies and agents were recruited as part of a wider network. Among other malicious activities, they wanted to steal sensitive information,” Burgess said in ASIO’s annual report.
“It was obvious to us that the spies were highly trained because they used sophisticated tradecraft to disguise their activities.”