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4 Mar, 2009 18:08

Spy scandal rocks Romania

Spy scandal rocks Romania

A Romanian Defense Ministry officer and a former Bulgarian military attaché have been arrested for allegedly passing sensitive information to a third party.

According to the Bulgarian News Agency (BTA), Petar Zikulov, from Bulgaria, and Florichel Akim, from Romania, were detained on February 28 in Bucharest. Romania is charging the men with divulging secret military documents. Zikulov is accused of espionage for a third country, not a member of the EU, or NATO and Akim is being charged with treason.

According to the prosecutor’s investigation, Akim, not officially recruited by any foreign intelligence services, was selling secret data to Zikulov. The Bulgarian native then allegedly resold the sensitive information elsewhere. Investigators say the two men have been acquaintances since 2002.

The prosecution believes that Zikulov’s military contacts allowed him to organize a criminal network for distributing secret military data. Investigators believe that Zikulov may have worked with other officials as well.

Petar Zikulov, who left the Bulgarian diplomatic post in 2000, was under surveillance for several years by the Romanian special services before his arrest, according to Bulgarian media.

The Romanian Intelligence Service reports that Akim had also been under surveillance for four years before his arrest, and that the two men often met in the most crowded places in Bucharest.

The prosecution is arguing that the secret documents may have been transferred to Ukraine or Russia.

Guilty or not?

The prosecution has confirmed that the Romanian military officer has already acknowledged his guilt and revealed that he sold secret data. NATO military maps, the positioning of military technology, radio frequency data and other technical information were among the secrets that the ministry official allegedly sold, according to Bulgaria’s 24 Hours daily newspaper.

Unlike Akim, Zikulov did not give away many details about his alleged spying activity. He only told officials about his acquaintance with a certain Ukrainian official who showed an interest in receiving military information back in 2001.

On Monday, the military attaché of the Ukrainian embassy, Sergey Ilnitsky, was dispatched from Bucharest and declared persona non grata. The Romanian officials have refused to explain the reason for the expulsion, but did not exclude participation of the Ukrainian diplomat in espionage.

Moreover, two weeks ago the Romanian President Traian Besescu cancelled his visit to Ukraine, planned for February 25-26.

The Ukrainian officials have not given any comments on the matter so far.

Preliminary hearings against the suspects were supposed to start on Monday, but were postponed till March 5 because Zikulov lacked a defense team. The prosecution has time till the end of March to gather all necessary evidence and proofs for further legal proceedings.

Officials in the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any involvement in Zikulov’s activity. Ministry spokesperson, Dragovest Goranov, stressed that the former attaché is no longer engaged in state activities and had been living in Romania as a private individual.