382. Telegram From the Embassy in Bulgaria to the Department of State, the Embassy in Italy, and the Consulate in Munich1



  • Sofia Perspectives on the Antonov Trial; GOB Relations With Rome and the Vatican.
Confidential—Entire text.


An Italian Embassy source told EmbOffs that he expects Sergei Antonov to be freed for a return to Sofia following a verdict of not guilty due to insufficient evidence. However, he said the Italian Embassy had received a letter from a Bulgarian source claiming Antonov was guilty and also implicating an interpreter in the Bulgarian Embassy at Rome in the papal assassination case. Our Italian source cited strong Italian political pressure to put the case in the past, so as to clear the air in Italian-Bulgarian relations. Source noted a recently resolved divided family case as an instance of Bulgarian eagerness for improved ties. However, GOB relations with the Vatican have not advanced, and a request made by Cardinal Poggi here in late 1985 for official recognition of the Roman Catholic Church’s status was denied by MFA. The Vatican acceded to a GOB request made then to forego early beatification for a cleric martyred by the GOB in 1952. Bulgarian media have claimed Prosecutor Marini’s request for a not guilty verdict as a victory, and have attacked RFE coverage of the case. End summary.
Italian Political Counselor here (strictly protect) predicts Bulgarian-Italian relations are likely to improve following the expected release of Sergei Antonov and his return to Bulgaria. Source cited GOB’s resolution of a high-profile divided family case as tangible evidence that bilateral relations were already on the upswing. In the case, Bulgarian authorities in mid-February permitted exit for the two young daughters of a Bulgarian couple living as refugees in Italy. Source realistically envisioned no other trial verdict than not guilty for lack of evidence, in accordance with prosecutor Marini’s request. However, source made clear his own belief in Antonov’s connections with GOB state security (Durzhavna Signurnost).
According to source, in December 1985 the Italian Embassy here received three letters written in Bulgarian from an anonymous person claiming to be a former employee of GOB state security. The writer demonstrated a detailed knowledge of facts in the papal assassination [Page 1230] case and stated that the Bulgarian defendants had cooperated with Turkish accomplices as charged. The letters also supposedly named as a co-conspirator the Bulgarian Embassy at Rome’s Italian language interpreter, a Bulgarian citizen. Italian Embassy source did not give this man’s name, but said the interpreter had returned to Sofia to perform translation work during the Italian rogatory commission hearings here in December. The source said the letters conveyed no information on indicted defendants Antonov, Vasilev, and Aivazov other than what had already appeared in the public media. He added that the letters had been forward to Judge Santiapicci and Prosecutor Marini, but that their contents did not influence the conduct of the trial.
Source noted that strong political pressure had developed in Italy for wrapping up the conspiracy case against the Bulgarians. Nevertheless, he said there had already been Italian requests for judicial assistance from GOB in connection with the post-Martella, post-Antonov trial so-called “third investigation”. The Italians asked for information relating to Agca’s presence in Bulgaria at various times prior to May 1981. Source said he expects a GOB appeal should the Italian court deliver a verdict of not guilty on grounds of insufficient evidence. The appeal would proceed in Antonov’s absence, assuming he returns to Bulgaria. Source did not venture any guess on either the outcome of the appeal proceedings or on how they and the third Italian investigation would color bilateral relations.
Bulgarian media treated Prosecutor Marini’s request for the not guilty verdict as a major, albeit not total, victory. Media depiction of Marini as a villain has eased somewhat. Television newscasts lately have given Marini almost flattering coverage, with visual footage from the courtroom and selective Marini quotes acknowledging the weakness of the case against the Bulgarians. Television broadcast Bulgarian language dubbing of witnesses’ testimony has from time to time resorted to melodramatic excess, affecting a sneering or dissembling tone when content was unfavorable to Bulgarian defendants. BTV has spared Marini this indignity, however. BTV courtroom footage of defendant Antonov has been sparse in comparison to the time allotted Marini and even Agca. When on camera, Antonov has been impassive. In place of Antonov, BTV offered viewers an interview with defense lawyer Consolo, who made no new points as he attacked Agca for unreliability.
A local Bulgarian contact speculates that Antonov will likely enter a hospital shortly after his expected return to Sofia. This move would reinforce defense claims of his poor health, and provide an excuse for removing him from the limelight should GOB deem this desirable. Bulgarian media have spotlighted Antonov’s mother Ivanka in anticipation of his return, but wife Rositsa has disappeared from the [Page 1231] public eye and is widely rumored to have filed for divorce or even to have remarried already.
Bulgarian media vitriol is again directed at Radio Free Europe’s Rome trial commentary. An article in “Otechestven front” on March 7 hits RFE’s Bulgarian section, singling out Velichko Peitchev by name for “slanders” offensive to “Bulgarian patriots.”
Despite the winding down of the papal shooting case, GOB relations with the Roman Catholic Church have not shown signs of improvement. Italian Embassy source said that Cardinal Poggi, in Sofia during late 1985, had met with GOB MFA Deputy Foreign Minister (and concurrent Commissioner of Religious Affairs) Lyubomir Popov. Poggi requested formal GOB recognition of the church’s status in Bulgaria, which would put it on an official par with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, certain other Christian denominations, Judaism, and Islam as a recognized religion. Hitherto the church has belonged only to the officially “tolerated” category. GOB denied Poggi’s request, source said, but also demanded that the Vatican put a halt to beatification process underway for a Bulgarian Catholic martyr, Monsignor Eugenio Bossilkov of Sofia, who was executed by GOB in 1952 for alleged espionage. Source said the Vatican had acceded to the GOB request to shelve the move toward Bossilkov’s beatification.


Italian Embassy source took for granted a linkage in GOB policy toward the Antonov trial, Italian-GOB relations, and the status of the Roman Catholic Church in Bulgaria.2 End comment.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D860201–0026. Confidential.
  2. Antonov was acquitted in March 1986. See John Tagliabue, “Verdict on Papal Plot, but No Answer,” New York Times, March 31, 1986, p. A3.