What Happened to Petko Sertov? Since Friday, December 5, the small intelligence community in Sofia is paralyzed by the vanishing of one of its most prominent members. At the age of 58, this man with unimpressive appearance succeeded better than anyone in his transformation from former agent of the Communist secret services to a top cop in democratic Bulgaria, and even became the first boss of DANS (National Security Agency – editor’s note), the new Bulgarian counter-intelligence agency, created in 2008 with the blessing of the European Union, particularly of France and Germany.
It was his wife who alerted the authorities. Her husband left the house on December 5 to do some errands in the city and never returned. According to investigators, he has withdrawn a significant amount of money and vanished behind the wheel of his car. The very next day, the Ministry of the Interior issued a search warrant on grounds of “worrying disappearance”, relayed on Monday by Interpol, a sign of the undoubted importance given to this matter. Especially in the light of people close to him dismissing any lead in the disappearance related to “private matter”. Some of his former colleagues cautiously stepped forward to express their concern. In this much closed environment, one does not believe much in accidents or in decisions taken lightly. “All indications lead us to believe that Petko knew what he was doing. He may have gone to a secret appointment that turned bad. Or he simply wanted disappear. People like us know better than anyone how to put everyone on the wrong track,” testifies a former intelligence officer.
Fluent in French and Cultured
But what could have turned bad for this man living a more than comfortable life? The answer is hidden in his biography, emblematic for post-Communist Bulgaria, where a handful of “shadow” men like him, often at the cost of a dramatic U-turn, managed to jump on the “train of change”. And even drive it.
Fluent in French and cultured, the young Petko Sertov joined in 1984 the dreaded Second Main Directorate of the State Security (DS, the Communist secret services – editor’ note) in charge of counter-espionage. He is credited with the surveillance of the Embassy of France in Sofia. After the fall of the regime, he was first in line to host delegations that came from Paris to establish bridges between the secret services. Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, who was part of one such delegation in 1991, remembers a young man who literally “threw himself” in the arms of the French.
Was this the point when his destiny was reversed? The fact is that the year after that meeting, we find him near Lyon at the National Police School, where he crossed path not only with future French Commissars, but also with experts like Alain Bauer, who became his friend. Close to the Bulgarian Socialists, Petko Sertov quickly rose through the ranks to take the helm of DANS in 2008. This was the culmination of his career. But while in Bulgaria the agency was making itself known for the scandals it produced, diplomats and the French police welcomed an exemplary cooperation, in whose heart was the “friend Petko”, available at any time, always ready to help.
However, his closeness with the French was not always well-accepted by his older colleagues and caused the jealousy of the younger ones. In the summer of 2009, he was abruptly removed from his post. Depressed and aimless, he knocked again on the doors of the Embassy to request a helping hand, before turning to the private business. Those who have met him after that describe him as a disillusioned man, who believed that he was betrayed by his friends and who sometimes even threatened to tell it all. Bulgarian police say they are following any and all leads in this investigation. For once, this ritual wording makes sense.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian