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What to Know About 5 People Suspected of Spying for Russia in the U.K.

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Five citizens of Bulgaria who are accused of spying for Russia appeared by video link in a London courtroom on Tuesday after being formally charged with espionage offenses.

The preliminary hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court follows an investigation by the Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism command, which also focuses on cases concerning official secrets.

The five accused are Orlin Roussev, 45, who had been living in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, England; Bizer Dzhambazov, 41, and Katrin Ivanova, 31, who had both been living in Harrow in northwest London; Ivan Stoyanov, 31, from Greenford, west London; and Vanya Gaberova, 29, from Churchway, northwest London.

With a criminal prosecution underway, restrictions on what the news media can report are strict in Britain, and there is an official warning that there should be “no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”

The five defendants are charged with conspiracy to conduct espionage — or more specifically, “conspiring to collect information intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy for a purpose prejudicial to the safety and interest of the state.” The spying is alleged to have taken place over more than two years, from Aug. 30, 2020, to Feb. 8, 2023.

Mr. Roussev, Mr. Dzhambazov and Ms. Ivanova were previously charged on Feb. 11 with possession of false identity documents.

The prosecutor, Kathryn Selby, told the court that the “operating hub in this country for the offense of espionage” was Mr. Roussev’s address, a seaside guesthouse in Great Yarmouth. Prosecutors say that spying operations managed by the cell took place both in Britain and in continental Europe.

“All five are suspected of being part of an organized network of U.K.-based Bulgarian nationals conducting surveillance and other information-gathering activities against several locations and individuals on behalf of the Russian state,” Ms. Selby said.

The five defendants are accused of being part of a conspiracy with Jan Marsalek, who has not been charged in the case. He is the former chief operating officer of the German payments company Wirecard, which collapsed in 2020 with debts of more than 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion). Mr. Marsalek, an Austrian, is suspected of having committed vast fraud offenses and has been the subject of an Interpol “red notice” since he went on the run after the company imploded. He is reported by some news media to have fled to Belarus or Russia.

The five defendants did not enter a plea and, at the hearing, Tan Ikram, a district judge, determined that they should remain in prison until their case comes to trial.

With serious charges like these, an appearance in a magistrates’ court is a first step, and the case will now be referred to a higher court. The defendants are next scheduled to appear at the Old Bailey, the central criminal court in London, on Oct. 13.

The maximum sentence for someone found guilty of the espionage offenses would be 14 years in prison, according to the Crown Prosecution Service, the public prosecutor for England and Wales, which decided to go ahead with the charges.

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