Exclusive from Bivol:
The spy story about contacts between Bulgarian Communist State Security (DS) and the French Foreign Intelligence Service DGSE in the 80s of the 20th century got a surprising twist. According to insider information of Bivol, the former Head of DANS *Petko Sertov fits the description of the former DS agent, who in 1991 offered his services to the French authorities, giving them a reason to be proud after his speedy career growth to become the first DANS Chief.
*Petko Sertov was reported missing by his family last Friday. He vanished after leaving his home and his two cell phones behind. His whereabouts remain unknown.
First observation: D. D. was right. The initiative did not come from the Bulgarians, but rather from the curious tandem that he had formed then with Judge Bruguière. In the spring of 1986, when the Chief of the Residentura of the Bulgarian Communist State Security (the secret services, DS) in Paris mentioned for the first time the possibility of working with DGSE, (General Directorate for External Security – editor’s note), his superiors had such hard time to believe it that they took two weeks to respond. “This is a serious matter, even if the intermediary is not,” they warned their “resident” in Paris, already summing up the dilemmas before the secret services. The DS archives have carefully preserved the text of this proposal with a handwritten note from D.D., addressed to the Chief of Staff of the Minister of the Interior in Sofia. The author, who calls himself “assigned” with this mission by the highest authorities of the Republic, develops the idea of an “informal and confidential” meeting between intelligence officials from both countries. A location was even proposed – the Hilton Hotel in Vienna. The text explained the many benefits for the Bulgarians – information on “groups and persons hostile to the People’s Republic of Bulgaria”, increased trade with France, as well as improving the image of Bulgaria which was exposed in several cases of international terrorism, including the attempted assassination of the Pope in 1981.
It was three long years away before the fall of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. And even if it was time for change, it was unthinkable that Bulgaria, which was known to be the most loyal satellite of the Soviet Union, would get involved in contacts of this type with the secret services of a capitalist country. Curiously, however, this is not what seemed to be causing the most problems for the Bulgarians, at least initially. For the DS, the main obstacle to such contacts was the intermediary itself – D.D., better known by his aliases such as “Agent Mariana”. Recruited in the 1970’s to serve as informant about the expat community in Paris, he was detected by the DST (responsible for counterespionage and counterterrorism – editor’s note). He had already launched himself into a double game which earned him a three-year stay in prison in France. Since then, the DS avoided him like the plague. “He has probably moved from the DST to the DGSE,” they analyzed in Sofia. Bulgarians procrastinated or sent him away matter-of-factly. “I still do not understand what took the French to seek this man,” recalls Colonel Stefan Stefanov from the anti-terrorist section of the DS, one of the few living witnesses in Bulgaria.
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The affair took another dimension with the return in the game of Judge Bruguière, himself. He asked to meet with the Bulgarian Ambassador in Paris, Georgi Yovkov, causing a wave of panic at the Embassy. The DS agents were aware that this young magistrate (he was 43-years old at the time) was fast becoming a centerpiece in the anti-terrorism arrangements of France. The encrypted telegrams from Paris were now landing on the desks of top officials in Sofia. What to do? The “resolutions” – these notes scribbled on documents by hand by the Bulgarian chiefs – were signed by Vlado Todorov, the Head of the First Directorate General of DS (PGU), by General Lyuben Gotsev or by the Deputy Interior Minister in charge of Intelligence, Stoyan Savov. They advocated “extreme mistrust” and even an offer to pass the hot potato to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Once we accept, we cannot get off the hook,” they warned. The case came to the knowledge of the Head of the Bulgarian diplomacy, Petar Mladenov, who considered that there was “something fishy and unclear” in this extended hand by the DGSE.
However, the affair was not discontinued. In 1987, the DS even brought twice “Mariana” back to Sofia to probe him about his true intentions. He did rather well – the officer who met him judged him “trustworthy.” But this did not change the verdict of the DS – “Mariana” had to be removed from the case. Meanwhile, Judge Bruguière continued to pressure the Ambassador in Paris. The gestures of openness and confidence increased. For example, he refused to go to the Embassy because it would be “under the control of the DST, itself infiltrated by American and Israeli agents” – information that intrigued the Bulgarians a lot. He proposed a meeting with the DGSE in his office, or in a restaurant. “It’s the Embassy or nothing,” the Residentura cut short. The judge threatened to make public the involvement of Sofia in cases of terrorism that he was investigating… In the fall of 1987, the Ambassador eventually even voiced his worries before the Quai d’Orsay (French Foreign Affairs Ministry – editor’s note) about what looked like an increasing harassment, but in vain.
Since September 1987, developments revved up for good. DGSE pretended to accept an appointment in the office of the Bulgarian Embassy in Paris, on Avenue Rapp. Such appointment was even set for October 29, 1987 at 10 am. However, on that day two French agents came five minutes before the agreed time and brought an envelope. Agenda change! The envelope contained two diner invitations for November 24, 8 pm, at 141 Boulevard Mortier. The first card was addressed to the Ambassador and in the second, the recipient’s line was left blank; this invitation was for a senior officer of the DS.
The idea of such a meeting in the height of the Cold War and in the seat of the French intelligence in Paris seems scarcely credible. However, this dinner has occurred as evidenced by the two invitation cards, carefully preserved by the DS agents. “It was surreal,” admits today the Judge, who remembers a general Imbot as being particularly nervous, ready to cancel the dinner over any lateness of the Bulgarians. “I remember the arrival of the two men, wearing their bowler hats, as emerging out of the fog that wrapped that night Boulevard Mortier. John Le Carré would not have done better.” What did they discuss? “Theater and cinéma,” Judge Bruguière smiles enigmatically.
The archives are much more “talkative”. After much discussion on the “second man”, the choice of Sofia finally fell on agent “Gorov”. Officially, he fulfilled the duties of the Consul at the Embassy. He was chosen to bear the heavy burden to represent the secret services at this outside-the-norm dinner. And so it happened that for the first time an enemy spy was treading the pavement near the barracks on Boulevard Mortier. “After crossing the courtyard, we entered the main building,” he wrote the next day in a long note. “We were greeted by General Pons, the second in command at the DGSE, by Judge Bruguière and another official named Raynaud. General Imbot appeared soon after. We were served by two men and had dinner in a specially arranged room. It was a formal dinner, in the best French tradition. The Ambassador and General Imbot were those who talked the most. In fact, it was mainly the General who asked the questions. He expressed particular interest in the relations of Bulgaria with its neighboring countries and in its Muslim population. The questions were asked tactfully, without insisting.”
Contrary to the expectations of the Bulgarians, the DGSE officials did not mention the fight against terrorism and possible cooperation in this area. By the middle of the meal, General Imbot simply ran a “Well, now we know each other”. “It was probably the purpose of this dinner,” suggested “Gorov.” But that left his superiors in Sofia unsatisfied. That’s it? Shocked by the number and rank of their hosts, the DS agent then began to multiply the suggestions. He analyzed the seating arrangement, the international context; he came back to the words of the ones and the others. He also sought, and found, a common point between all participants – their knowledge of Islam. And finally, having combined several channels of information, he reached with confidence the conclusion that in trying to take the lead on the DST, DGSE had mainly planned to seek assistance from Bulgaria in the release of its hostages in Lebanon. “Meanwhile, the negotiations in the hostages release have advanced, and they abandoned that idea, but kept the dinner appointment to get to know us,” he wrote.
Subsequent events, however, seem to contradict this hypothesis. “Mariana” quickly took charge again by informing the “Consul” how much the French side was satisfied with this first contact. The question about the next appointment was again asked insistently. The intermediary was trying by all means to attract Bulgarians to move the location of the meeting to Austria (sometimes Switzerland was suggested), by offering to provide information on the Grey Wolves (the nemesis of the secret services in Sofia), but also on certain dissidents living in France. The Bulgarians continued to distrust him, but listened attentively when Judge Bruguière warned that the countries of the East “were not safe from a terrorist attack”. They ended up making a counter-proposal – let’s meet in Algeria, or even in Sofia! In a note, dated February 28, 1988, addressed to the “Soviet comrades”, the boss of the PGU, General Todorov, reported in a very watered-down manner these contacts with the French services, pledging the DS was not going to pursue them. However, the communication channel between the DGSE and Sofia was to remain open at least until the fall of the Berlin Wall. On March 21, 1989, the “Consul” received for an extensive meeting in the halls of the Embassy Jean-Louis Bruguière. He was already an old acquaintance… He voiced a demand to send a police mission to Sofia in connection with the investigation in the attack on July 11, 1988 against the Greek cruise ship City of Poros (nine dead, including three French). The terrorists have passed through Sofia. The Judge also expressed his desire to go there. There was no legal convention then between France and Bulgaria, but “Gorov” seemed to be in favor and requested an urgent response from Sofia. It did not arrive until 1991.
In June 1991, accompanied by two police officers from the DST, Judge Bruguière eventually flew to Bulgaria where he was received with open arms by Colonel Stefanov. According to the Judge, it was these three years of “approaching” that opened the doors of Sofia for him. There, he was presented with evidence that strengthened his conviction that the Abu Nidal group was responsible for the massacre on the Greek ferry.
Was that the only purpose of the three years of playing cat and mouse with the DS? “This case demonstrates that in espionage one must be firstly daring – a quality that the DS leadership -ideological and bureaucratic – could not integrate,” said researcher Hristo Hristov, author of numerous books on the Communists services. Another thing that the centralized system of the Bulgarians could not integrate was certainly the fact that, unlike D.D.’s assertions, the Judge’s approach had not been endorsed by any “highest authority in the Republic”. The DGSE has participated in the maneuvering, but without uttering even a word to the “cousins” from the DST. Its second in command, Raymond Nart, is still enraged: “Clowns,” he says abruptly. In Sofia, circles close to the former services, however, prefer to see in this story the illustration of the ideological emancipation of the DS in the 1980s – even a certain foresight of its leaders who have already identified Islamist terrorism as the “threat of the twenty first century”. This is an analysis that is obviously not shared by its former “clients”, such as former political prisoner Georgi Konstantinov, who since 1973 has found refuge in Paris. “Prophetic DS? I have rarely seen such an inefficient structure. All that concerned the DS agents was not to make waves in order to make the most of their stay in Paris,” said the anarchist who has returned to Bulgaria, where he lives since 1991 in a rundown apartment building in the outskirts of Sofia. Listening to him, one can also begin to wonder about the moral appropriateness of such cooperation in the fight against terrorism when fundamental ideological differences remained between the two blocs. Can one really collaborate with regimes that treat their opponents as “terrorists” when they see the work of genuine terrorist groups as legitimate expression of the will for “national liberation”?
Like any espionage affair, this story also appears doomed to keep some secrets that its protagonists will take to their graves. Thus, we will never know the real intentions of the DGSE, as Generals Imbot and Pons are no longer among the living. We can add to this the questions about the exact role of D.D., AKA Agent “Mariana”. Taking advantage of his role as a go-between two systems, being the only one to have access to both, could it be that in fact, he was the one who manipulated everyone, starting with his mentor Judge Bruguière? Always enigmatic, D.D. promises to say the last word about this case in the “memoirs” he is writing.
The fall of the Wall in 1989 made all these questions obsolete. Today, the cooperation between intelligence services is a reality in Europe. But such fact may not completely close the page of this soon to be a thirty-year-old story. In his memoirs, Judge Bruguière goes back to his brief trip in Bulgaria, a country in full disarray in 1991, where institutions were collapsing one after the other. And he evokes a particular evening episode when his guide, a young officer from the DS, fluent in French, expressed with great emotion his attachment to France. Could they help him get there? Obviously, the French had not remained insensitive to this request because this other dinner will be the beginning of a great career and another story of “cooperation” that is perhaps lasting until now. This man, from the ranks of the Unit of Colonel Stefanov, would leave Bulgaria in 1992 to study at the National Police College, near Lyon. Upon his return to Bulgaria, he quickly climbed the ranks to take the lead in 2008 of Bulgaria’s National Security Agency (DANS), the new counter-espionage body of democratic Bulgaria, implemented with the help of France and Germany. For Colonel Stefanov, there is no doubt about what happened in that distant summer of 1991. Sipping coffee on a sunny balcony in the Bulgarian capital, this former spy hunter will have the final word: “If this entire improbable story has allowed the French to get the future head of our counter-intelligence on the hook, then yes, I can bow to them.”
Jean-Louis Bruguiere (born in 1943) – retired magistrate, expert in terrorist cases. He led several high-profile cases, such as the shooting on Rue des Rosiers, the UTA attack against DC-10, Carlos, Direct Action, among others… He is the origin of contacts with the Bulgarian State Security (DS) and played a central role in this attempt of rapprochement. For the Bulgarians, the magistrate “was closely related to the DGSE, end even part of it”.
D.D. (born in 1940) – known among the Bulgarian community in Paris as “Jimmy the Spy”. He lives in France since 1966. D.D. was recruited by the DS under the code name “Mariana” to serve as an informant in the French capital. Caught red-handed by the DST, D.D. was sentenced in 1979 to three years in prison for “for spying for a hostile power.” Shortly after his release, he found himself in the office of Judge Bruguière over a “dirty money extortion story” in which he faced new imprisonment. Then he played vabanque. He explained to the magistrate that he was a “clandestine” agent of the DS, with the rank of Colonel, but was let down by his secret services. Jean-Louis Bruguière immediately referred him to the DGSE, with whom he had at the time “excellent contacts”. The convict was obviously interesting for the “Pool” (slang for the DGSE headquarters in Paris – editor’s note) and they took him under their wing for many years. Russian-speaking (and Russophile), the man was a Jack-of-All-Trades – movie producer (he made a fortune the early 1990s by selling to Russia South-American soap operas), businessman, restorer and collector of art… He also seemed to be comfortable both in artistic circles and in the underworld of nouveau-riches in Eastern Europe. According to Rumiana Ougartchinska, author of KGB and Co. – Attack on Europe (Anne Carrière, 2005), the man could also be linked since the 1990s to shady Russian oligarchs who used him to launder money in Paris. Between 1986 and 1989, it was him who served as an interface between the French services and the DS, to the chagrin of his superiors.
René Imbot (1925-2007) – General, former Resistance fighter, Chief of Staff of the Army, Director of SDECEE, (now DGSE), between 1985 and 1988. It was him who invited the Bulgarians to the dinner at the “Pool”, 141 Boulevard Mortier in Paris.
Jean Pons (1934-2003) – General of the Army Corps, Deputy Director (for Intelligence) of the DGSE at the time. He participated in the dinner given by René Imbot. His past as Commander of the French Contingent in Lebanon (1984-1986) led the Bulgarians to believe that his presence could be explained by the desire of the DGSE to ask the secret services in Sofia to help with the hostage crisis. This did not happen.
“Raynaud” (probably an alias) – agent of the DGSE, expert on Turkey, who participated in the dinner. His presence is explained by the interest of the DS in the Grey Wolves.
Raymond Nart (born in 1937) – former Deputy Director of the DST, Head of Counter-intelligence and Counter-terrorism. He was not aware of this attempt of rapprochement with the Bulgarians. He was in the origin of the arrest and conviction of D.D. in 1979; he learned with amazement that the latter could have played a mediating role in this case. “This is an affair concocted by clowns, worthy of inclusion in the long list of failures of the DGSE,” he said.
Stefan Stefanov – retired Colonel, in charge of counter-terrorism in Bulgaria, key figure in the counter-intelligence until 1991. He led briefly the First Unit against Organized Crime in democratic Bulgaria. Following the visit of Judge Bruguière to Bulgaria, whom he hosted on June 14, 1991, he was invited by France on a courtesy trip.
Vladimir (“Vlado”) Todorov (1925-2012) – Director of the Bulgarian Intelligence Abroad (PGU) between 1986 and 1990. Many of the documents cited here bear his signature. Very suspicious, he referred all contacts to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In an undated note he wrote: “Our guys should stop being involved in this matter”. General Todorov is the last PGU Chief before the fall of the regime. He is also the only senior DS officer to be convicted (to 14 months in prison) for destroying the evidence in the murder case of dissident-writer Georgi Markov in London in 1978 (known as the “Bulgarian Umbrella” case).
Luben Gotsev (born 1930) – DS officer and diplomat. Former Deputy Director of PGU (1974-1982), he was Deputy Foreign Minister at the time. He was the interface between the two institutions. It is him who gave the green light and the instructions for the dinner with the DGSE in Paris. More generally, he can be considered as the final recipient of these exchanges with France and, in many respects, his opinion weighted more that the one of the PGU Chief. He was very active in public life after the fall of the regime in 1989. In Bulgaria, General Luben Gotsev is considered to be one of the shadow puppeteers of the democratic transition period.
Stoyan Savov (passed away in 1992) – General, Deputy Minister of the Interior, in charge of intelligence at the time. One of the documents in this case is a note signed by him, which is an extremely rare occurrence. In it, he expresses doubts and demands a “thorough check”. General Savov was implicated in the murder case of dissident Georgi Markov and committed suicide with his service weapon in 1992, on the eve of the opening of his trial.
Petar Mladenov (1936-2000) – Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time. He believed that there was something “fishy and unclear” in the French proposals. Taking advantage of the “palace revolution” on November 10, 1989, Petar Mladenov replaced rock-solid Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov as Head of Bulgaria. This marked the beginning of the democratic transition in the country.
Agent “Gorov” (M.M. in civil life) – DS officer, working under diplomatic cover (Consul) at the Embassy of Bulgaria in Paris until 1989. He attended the dinner at the DGSE headquarters. He spoke French fluently. Described as an art and performances lover, he followed for the DS the developments in the French system of counter-terrorism. He was the main interlocutor of Judge Bruguière. M.M. is still alive; he has retired to the Bulgarian countryside, and did not wish to speak to us. He was seen for the last time in Sofia on December 10, 2013, at the opening of the exhibition “Reminiscences” of the Franco-Bulgarian painter Antoaneta Madzharova (art gallery Paris-Moscow).
Georgi Yovkov (deceased) – Bulgarian Ambassador to Paris at the time. He attended the dinner given by the DGSE. This former Communist guerilla fighter, already elderly at the time, worked as Director of the Bulgarian Cinematography which facilitated his contacts with D.D., who was a film producer.
Milan Milanov (born in 1939) – retired Bulgarian diplomat and educator. This cultured man was the first Ambassador in Paris of Democratic Bulgaria and it is him who delivered in the summer of 1991 the visa of Judge Bruguière and two officers from the DST. “I asked him, as show of confidence that documents be issued on the spot, and to not keep the photographs that I brought,” recalls the magistrate. The diplomat did not object.
Alexandre Lévy, Paris, especially for Bivol
According to exclusive information of Bivol, the person X, who accompanied the French in Sofia in 1991, was Petko Sertov, former State Security agent. Sertov headed DANS in 2008, at the time it was created. During his term, notorious defendant Alexey Petrov was appointed adviser at DANS, while the services gained notoriety with a series of scandals, including wiretapping of politicians and journalists in the case codenamed “Galeria”. After his resignation in 2009, Sertov served briefly as Consul in Thessaloniki. From 2011 until March 2013 he was Deputy Director of the Center for Prevention and Combating Corruption and Organized Crime (TSPPKOP) known as BORKOR. He is missing since December 5, 2014.
Excerpt from the leaked-to-the-press conversation between Socialist lawmaker Mladen Chervenyakov and Petko Sertov…
26:15 Chervenyakov: NATO are our enemies. Where you see them, you must first destroy them!
26:21 Sertov: And the other thing that I have gained – I was in school in France.
26:28 Chervenyakov: Well, this is not such great school!
26:30 Sertov: There one really can acquire… connections… This is how I know Antonio Lopez (Antonio Lopez – Secretary General of the European People’s Party – editor’s note). You see, this is very lasting stuff!
You will see that I will eventually treat you (they argue over who will pay the bill – editor’s note). You will see that he has forgotten his wallet as well.
27:18 Third person: Let me pay that since I have not done it in a long time….
27:24 Chervenyakov: Well I know several people who have graduated from Ecole Normale.
27:29 Sertov: This is not a very serious school, so that you know. This is a school for senior executives of the French Ministry of the Interior in Lyon. The very fact that I went abroad in 1959 and returned to Bulgaria in 1979… I will show you photos from there, from Lyon, if do not believe me.
28:06 Chervenyakov: You became a seal there, maybe?
28:12 Sertov: Well I became everything… It is non-stop there; training right from morning until night time, non-stop!
28:18 Chervenyakov: And for how long?
28:19 Sertov: One year. I had become… They gave me as a gift a tennis racket in the tennis championship of the Academy. Everything one wants, do you understand this – from morning till night time. Including fast car driving, right there… The Academy is right next to a suburb of Lion and there are many hills. They seal off an area and we trained with a Peugeot 205. You do not have time to blink there; you have no time for anything outside learning and training, non-stop, everything is arranged for you.
29:10 Chervenyakov: You underwent a second army service!
29:14 Sertov: Absolutely – second army service, moreover, these are the people who ultimately graduated as class 43; these are the people who become Commissars in France. Once you graduate from this school, you become Commissar and then you only advance in your career.
29:37 Chervenyakov: How many from the ruling team of France do you know?
29:43 Sertov: Well, as we were with Sergei on a visit with Sarkozy, as he saw me, he was my colleague and he is adviser to Sarkozy, he hugged me for a long time because we lived next door in the Academy (the person in case is the Chief Adviser to the then-President of France Nicolas Sarkozy. His name is Alain Bauer, extremely influential right-wing politician and senior administrator, Professor of Criminology at the Sorbonne – editor’s note). Well Antonio Lopez came for about two weeks of internship, so I met him and this was the start of a very strong friendship, you know?! We play football, tennis, wrestle together, special training tactics, wrestling and so on… We are constantly together, you know? From morning to morning…
30:33 Chervenyakov: Yes, this is a very serious school.
30:37 Sertov: Well, it is considered the most serious in France! I’m talking in terms of the Ministry of Interior. Anyone who is a Commissar, whether in Paris, whether in another other big city or somewhere in the services in France, came from there. And Sarkozy told this to Sergei when we were in France.
30:55 Chervenyakov: So this is like the KGB school in Moscow?
30:56 Sertov: Sarkozy told Sergei – Yes, I know that you have graduated from… (inaudible – editor’s note).
31:05 Chervenyakov (laughs – editor’s note)
31:16 Sertov: Then we had to observe decency there!
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