Last year, Britain's domestic intelligence agency MI5 warned that a Chinese spy had infiltrated parliament to interfere in UK politics
The five defendants are accused of being part of a conspiracy with a "person known as" Jan Marsalek, who is not charged in the case. AFP News

Five people accused of belonging to a Russian spy ring operating from within the UK have appeared in court.

Bulgarian nationals Orlin Roussev, Bizer Dzhambazov, Katrin Ivanova, Ivan Stoyanov, and Vanya Gaberova allegedly conspired to gather information which would be useful to an enemy, between August 2020 and February 2023.

The defendants, who were arrested under the Official Secrets Act by counter-terrorism detectives from the Metropolitan Police Force, have resided in the UK for a number of years, renting suburban properties and working in a variety of jobs.

At the time of their arrest, it has been suggested that both Dzhambazov and Ivanova shared the same address in Harrow, North West London, whereas Roussev was a resident of Norfolk, Yorkshire.

In Harrow, the neighbours of Mr Dzhambazov and Ms Ivanova told the authorities that they were a couple.

The pair ran a community organisation that provided Bulgarian nationals with services to familiarise them with the "culture and norms of British society" and moved to the UK almost a decade ago. The police have continued to investigate their residence in Harrow.

Mr Roussev, who lived in Yorkshire after moving to the UK in 2009, has a long history of business dealings in Russia.

Roussev, Dzhambazov and Ivanova were previously charged on February 11 2023 with possession of false identity documents with improper intention under section 4 of the Identity Documents Act 2010.

These latest charges, for which they appeared in court today, indict them for carrying out surveillance on people and places targeted by Russia.

Their surveillance activities are alleged to have apparently been for the purpose of assisting Russia to conduct hostile action against the targets, including potential abductions.

"The charges follow an investigation by the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command," said the CPS.

Prosecutors warned that in order to conduct a fair trial "it is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings".

Russian spies
The defendants did not enter pleas at Westminster Magistrates' Court, where they appeared via video link from four different prisons.

Describing the charges, prosecutor Kathryn Selby said the "operating hub in this country for the offence of espionage" was the property of Mr Roussev.

His home address was a now-closed seaside guesthouse in Great Yarmouth.

The defendants spoke only to confirm they could see and hear the court, and to state their names and dates of birth during the brief hearing.

Speaking at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Tuesday, Deputy Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram said the five would appear at the Old Bailey on 13 October.

Their arrest follows the revelation of a Russian spy network which smuggled "highly sensitive" technology from the European Union to help boost President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine.

The spy group, known as the "Serniya network", was set up to procure goods from microchips to ammunition. The group, however, successfully infiltrated EU companies to obtain machine tools from Germany and Finland, as first reported by the Financial Times, which conducted an investigation.

As a result, Britain has been seeking to take tougher action on external security threats and potential spies, and in July passed a national security law, aiming at overhauling its means of deterring espionage and foreign interference with new tools and criminal provisions.

At the time, the government labelled Russia as "the most acute threat" to its security.

Last November, Britain's domestic spy chief said more than 400 suspected Russian spies had been expelled from Europe, striking the "most significant strategic blow" against Moscow in recent history.

British police have previously charged three Russians, who they say are GRU military intelligence officers, with the 2018 attempt to murder former double agent Sergei Skripal with the military-grade nerve agent Novichok. Two were charged in 2018 and the third in 2021.

Russia continues to engage in an international conflict with Ukraine, which began in 2014 but escalated last year when they invaded the neighbouring state.

President Putin has previously warned the UK against providing Ukraine with weapons and ammunition, claiming Russia would be forced to "retaliate".