Vladimir Kostov arrived in Paris in April 1974 as the Paris correspondent of Bulgarian Television and Radio. He was also an experienced intelligence officer with the rank of Major. On 27 July 1977, he and his wife Natalya sought and received seeking political asylum in France.
Immediately, the First Main Directorate (FMD) of the Bulgarian Secret Service began an investigation into his defection. Kostov’s code name “Krastev”, which was used while he was working as an intelligence officer in Paris, was changed to “Judas”.
On the 5 May 1978, a Sofia Military Court in closed session sentenced Kostov to death and his wife Natalia to six and a half years in prison as “traitors to the Motherland.” According to Bulgarian journalist Hristo Hristov, the FMD appointed a Bulgarian agent living in Algeria to perform the operation to liquidate “Judas”. The agent had been trained for operations in Turkey, but now he was charged with the mission to carry out the death sentence.
After doing freelance work for Radio Free Europe’s Bulgarian Service, Kostov became a staff member in the RFE Paris news bureau on 1 August 1978. He was scheduled for transfer to the Munich headquarters of the radio station in October as a full-time employee.
Vladimir Kostov describes in his memoirs The Bulgarian Umbrella what happened to him in Paris about 2 PM on 26 August 1978:
There were crowds of people in the Metro corridors. A few seconds before stepping off the escalator, I felt a sharp pain in the small of my back, just above my waist. At the same moment, I heard a sound like the rattle of a stone hitting the ground. Natalya heard it, too, without suspecting that anything had happened to me. My first thought was that I had been struck by a stone slung with great force, as though from a catapult.
In the 2006 television documentary, Umbrella Assassin, Vladimir Kostov takes the viewer through what happened as he was leaving the Metro station:
Two hours later, Kostov and his wife went to the Nanterre Surgery, Kostov was examined by the doctor on duty, who reportedly told them, “I can’t feel any lump in the place where you think you were hit. I suppose some insect - a wasp perhaps - got in under your shirt”. Kostov asked about the possibility that someone had deliberately attacked him. The French doctor skeptically said, “It’s quite obvious that you have not been shot or stabbed. As for poison, it’s more than two hours now, so you’d either be dead or critically ill. Go home. If it gets worse, come back and see me”.
Over the next forty-eight hours Kostov’s conditioned worsened, he had a high fever and the right side of his back was swollen. On Monday, he was still in pain and went to another hospital and another doctor told him that his wound was not an insect bite but the cause was unknown. The swelling went down and the pain stopped.
Kostov, who has remained in close contact with French authorities since his defection a year ago, immediately reported the incident to the police on Monday, 28 August. The police told him after their first analysis that, although they knew of the existence of more than 3,000 different kinds of toxins, it appeared they were dealing with something completely new or different. Kostov has been told he would receive a final analysis from the French police by 15 September. He described to the man as tall, athletic looking and not French and a police made a composite drawing.
On 11 September 1978, Georgi Markov died. Radio Free Europe’s Bulgarian Service in Munich called Vladimir Kostov and told him the tragic news. The following day he called a friend at BBC, who told him that Scotland Yard was investigating. Kostov learned that as Markov lay dying, he repeatedly said agents of the Bulgarian Intelligence Service had poisoned him. Because of his intelligence background, Kostov maintained contact with French intelligence officers. He called French intelligence authorities, DST, which then started an investigation to determine if the attack on Kostov and the attack on Markov were related. DST immediately assigned him twenty-four hour protection and contacted other interested French government agencies, as well as British authorities.
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Kostov wrote what happened next:
On the 25th September 1978, the two Scotland Yard inspectors arrived in Paris. They contacted the surgeon who was to perform the operation on me. The next day my wife and I went to the surgical clinic on “L’Avenue de la Republique”. There were two Englishmen waiting for us there, as well as representatives of the French criminal police, a total of ten persons. The French police inspector who was to be present in the operating theatre put on a white gown. The radiographer localized the position of the pellet and gave me a local anesthetic. The surgeon excised from my flesh a piece as big as a thumb, which he placed immediately in a glass dish."
Immediately following the operation, one Scotland Yard detective flew back to England and submitted to Dr. Robin Keeley of the Scotland Yard forensic laboratory the small metallic object and skin sample that had been removed from Kostov’s body. According to Dr. Keeley, the pellet from Kostov matched that taken from Markov: 152mm (0.060 inches) in diameter, alloy of 90% platinum and 10% iridium.
In a 1978 statement to Scotland Yard, Dr. David Gall said
There is some evidence that the blood of Mr.Kostov, Markov’s compatriot contained small amounts of antibody to ricin, consistent with the administration of a small amount of ricin sometime previously.
A decree of President Zhelyu Zhelev in 1990 pardoned Kostov.
Vladimir Kostov lives in Paris today.
For more information
Vladimir Kostov, The Bulgarian Umbrella: The Soviet Direction and Operations of the Bulgarian Secret Service in Europe, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1988
Kostov re-enacts the physical attack in the television documentary Secrets of the Dead: Umbrella Assassin can be viewed at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8985637335577767956