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Bulgaria Closes Cold War 'Umbrella Murder' Case

Georgi Markov in a photo taken in September 1978, the same month he died. The Bulgarian defector worked for the BBC and was killed by an unknown assassin in London using a ricin-tipped umbrella.

Thirty-five years after the assassination of Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov by a ricin-tipped umbrella as he waited for a bus in London, no one knows for sure who was responsible. And now it's quite possible that no one ever will.

Bulgaria's chief prosecutor said Thursday that his office is officially closing the Cold War cold case, saying the statute of limitations has run out. If there's ever to be a resolution, it's entirely up to British authorities, he says.

It has long been assumed that Markov — a dissident writer who made his way to the West where he became an ever harsher critique of the Sofia regime — was jabbed in the thigh by a Bulgarian agent aided by the Soviet KGB. A pellet containing ricin was injected into Markov's leg. He died a few days later.

In 1992, remarks by a former KGB agent, Oleg Kalugin, bolstered the suspicion. The following year, Danish authorities charged former Bulgarian secret service agent Francesco Gullino with the murder, but were forced to drop the case for lack of evidence, according to The Associated Press.

Following Thursday's announcement by prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov, Bulgarian authorities came in for quick criticism and charges of a cover-up.

"Bulgaria and its prosecution are admitting to being either powerless or lacking the will to reveal one of the most horrific crimes of the communist regime — murder over speech, not action," prominent columnist Petya Vladimirova was quoted by the AP as writing on Thursday.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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