The ‘Russian spies’ next door: Neighbours reveal suburban lives of trio charged in police probe

Trio lived in suburban Britain for years and ‘were caught with fake uniforms, passports and press cards’ for ‘improper intention’

Tara Cobham,Andy Gregory
Tuesday 15 August 2023 21:45 BST

Related: Russians ‘appalled’ by Putin’s war should spy for the UK, head of MI6 says

Neighbours have revealed the suburban lives of suspected Russian spies who lived next door to a police officer for years.

Bulgarian nationals Orlin Roussev, 45, Biser Dzhambazov, 42, and Katrin Ivanova, 31, were arrested in February as part of a major police sting but before that appeared to have held down ordinary jobs.

The trio have been charged with possessing false passports and ID cards and other documents “with improper intention” after counterterrorism police swooped on homes in Harrow and Great Yarmouth.

Suspected spies: (from left) Katrin Ivanova, Orlin Roussev and Biser Dzhambazov

They are said to have known the documents for countries including the UK, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Spain, Greece and the Czech Republic were fake. Police also allegedly found Discovery and National Geographic television channel uniforms, reportedly used to carry out surveillance operations.

Their neighbours spoke of their shock on Tuesday as details began to emerge of the seemingly innocuous years they have spent in Britain.

Locals said that Mr Dzhambazov and Ms Ivanova, who lived at the same address as a couple in a “quiet cul de sac” in Harrow, were a “friendly” couple known to them as Max and Kate. They “kept a low profile” and even lived next door to a police officer, one neighbour said.

The pair were involved in a community organisation providing services to Bulgarian people and were said to have worked for electoral commissions in London which help Bulgarian expats to vote.

Simon Corsini, 49, who has owned Gino’s Cafe in the leafy northwest London town for 25 years, said: “I just don’t get it – there’s nothing here, the outskirts of Harrow.”

A man who works in a store a few doors down described Mr Dzhambazov as “just like a normal Joe Bloggs”, someone who was “in and out” of his shop like anyone else.

A nearby resident, who did not want to be named, told The Independent he would frequently greet Mr Dzhambazov and Ms Ivanova, describing them as “friendly, chatty, normal neighbours”, who lived with Ms Ivanova’s mother and were originally from the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

Basir Dzhambazov and Katrin Ivanova lived in Harrow next door to a police officer, while Orlin Roussev lived in Great Yarmouth

Mr Dzhambazov worked as a driver for hospitals, transporting blood from one blood bank to another, he said, while Ms Ivanova ran a group supporting immigrants settling into their new country, helping them to find accommodation and jobs.

She writes on her LinkedIn profile that she is a medical laboratory assistant for a private health business.

The former neighbour said the couple enjoyed going on trips abroad and having barbecues together in their back garden, while Mr Dzhambazov would often do weightlifting at his home with a friend.

Dahlia Kaholaif, 37, who has lived in the neighbourhood for three years with her young children, thought she recognised Ms Ivanova but said the pair were people who “kept to themselves”.

She said: “The neighbourhood is a friendly one, but the fact we never interacted tells that they were a secluded kind of people.”

Pauline Sommer, who works in the nearest shop to Mr Dzhambazov and Ms Ivanova’s flat, said: “They obviously kept a low profile.”

Many residents said they had noticed a large police presence on the road back in February when the pair were arrested, but none would have expected this to have been the reason behind it.

Mr Roussev, whose most recent address is a guesthouse in Great Yarmouth, claims on his LinkedIn profile that he previously served as an adviser to the Bulgarian energy minister.

Upon then moving to the UK, reportedly in 2009, he spent three years as chief technical officer at a financial services firm, and lists himself as having owned a firm involved in AI and advanced communications systems for the past 10 years.

The guesthouse where he is said to have lived is one of the many hotels and B&Bs which largely comprise Princes Road, which sits just a stone’s throw from the Norfolk town’s busy seafront and arcade and just one road back from the high street.

Orlin Roussev is listed as having lived at the Haydee guesthouse

Those working in neighbouring businesses said they had seen no sign of guests at the property in at least a year and, although an upper window remained ajar, there was no answer when The Independent rang the doorbell.

No staff at the hotels on the same street appeared to recognise Mr Roussev when shown the photograph of him published on Tuesday.

However, multiple people said they had witnessed a blue police tent erected outside the property several months ago, but were unsure of the cause, and saw no reason to question it further, being no stranger to police activity on the street.

“There’s a lot of crazy things around here that don’t get picked up. It’s a very up-and-down town at the minute,” said Billy, a 28-year-old bartender.

Orlin Roussev is listed as having lived at the Haydee guesthouse, a stone’s throw from the seafront in Great Yarmouth

“It’s either nothing happens – or everything happens, from petty theft up to people getting killed … It’s a seaside town, it’s kind of part and parcel unfortunately.” But he added that having a suspected Russian spy registered as living on the street “is a little bit weird, I’ll give you that.”

Another employee at a business on the seafront said: “What are they spying on? It’s Great Yarmouth, for crying out loud.”

They added: “We’ve seen it all, we’ve heard it all. Apart from that.”

All three suspects appeared at London’s Old Bailey on 31 July and were remanded in custody ahead of a trial date, which has not yet been set.

Another man and woman arrested in London as part of the same Official Secrets Act probe were released on bail in February and are due to return next month.

The arrests come as security services have said an increasing portion of their work is taken up by “hostile state threats”, and Russia has been a particular focus since the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal in 2018.

Giving his most recent annual threat update, the head of MI5, Ken McCallum, said the agency was “working intensively to make the UK the hardest possible operating environment for Russian covert action”.

He added: “We’ll need to keep at it: alongside assassination attempts, the Russian covert toolkit includes cyber attacks, disinformation, espionage, democratic interference, and the use of Putin-aligned oligarchs and others as tools for influence.”

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