Sunday, June 29, 2008

Markov murder

Dead, not buried
Jun 26th 2008 | SOFIA
From The Economist print edition

New light on an old murder

WHEN Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian émigré broadcaster, was murdered in London in 1978, few could have suspected that Communist rule in his country would collapse a decade or so later. But Bulgaria’s democratic rulers proved unable to help solve one of Britain’s most spectacular political murders. Key files were inexplicably destroyed; two senior officials died mysteriously. Though the cause of death—a pellet laden with a fatal poison, ricin, supposedly poked in with an umbrella—had long been known, the trail to those who ordered the killing seemed to have gone cold.

Now Scotland Yard officers have again been visiting Bulgaria, interviewing former secret-police officers and examining documents that they sought in vain in the early 1990s. At a time when Bulgaria’s reputation in the European Union has been dented by the seeming impunity enjoyed by its gangsters and their corrupt pals in officialdom, its willingness to co-operate with the British investigation will be an important test of good faith. “It will show to what extent former spies still control the country,” says Hristo Hristov, a Bulgarian journalist who follows the Markov case closely.

Bulgaria’s co-operation contrasts sharply with Russia’s intransigence over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a British citizen and vociferous critic of the Kremlin, who was poisoned in London in November 2006 by a rare radioactive element, polonium. British officials are convinced that Russia’s security service, the FSB, was involved in the murder. The prime suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, is now a celebrated Russian parliamentarian.

The Bulgarian authorities could obstruct the Markov investigation until after September 11th, the 30th anniversary of the murder, when the statute of limitations kicks in. But racing against time to find clues in heavily weeded archives in Sofia is unnecessary if the whole story is available elsewhere. Whether or not the Soviet KGB ordered Markov’s murder, their close Bulgarian allies would certainly have shared details of such a risky operation. Bulgaria asked Russia to declassify its Markov files in 1991 but did not pursue it. If the new man in the Kremlin, Dmitry Medvedev, truly wants to thaw his country’s icy relations with Britain, he could do worse than pass on whatever the closely-guarded archives of the old KGB contain on the Markov murder.

(in cooperation with the excellent Economist stringer Irina Novakova)

No comments: