An award-winning beautician is among five people suspected of spying for Russia who are set to be charged with conspiracy to conduct espionage in the UK.
Vanya Gaberova, 29, who owns a beauty salon in Acton, north London, is the youngest member of the alleged spy ring, which is made up of Bulgarian nationals.
Ms Gaberova describes herself as an “eyelash extension specialist” and claims to have won multiple awards in the UK, Bulgaria and Russia.
Residents in Acton who have known the young business owner for the past two years expressed shock upon hearing the allegations laid against her.
One local restaurant owner described her as “timid”, adding: “If she is a spy, she was a good one”.
Ms Gaberova is one of five Bulgarians who are set to be charged with “conspiring to collect information intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy for a purpose prejudicial to the safety and interests of the state”.
The group operated in the UK over a two-year period from Aug 30 2020 until Feb 8 2023, the Crown Prosecution Service claims.
Ms Gaberova will be charged alongside Orlin Roussev, 45, Bizer Dzhambazov, 41, Katrin Ivanova, 31 and Ivan Stoyanava, 31.
They will all appear at Westminster Magistrates Court on Sept 26.
Tiago Nogueria, the manager of Portuguese restaurant Villamoura, located opposite Ms Gaberova’s beauty shop, Pretty Women, said he had known her for the past two years.
He said: “She was renting that place and would leave her staff to do other stuff. She had a partner, a big guy and I was thinking what was he doing with that pretty girl.
“She was very timid, discreet. I wouldn’t have suspected her of being a spy but if she was, she was a good one. I knew her for two or three years and I never expected that.”
A phone number visible on the outside of the beauty shop had been disconnected and the website advertised by the shop had either been taken down, or did not exist.
A young Bulgarian girl working at the salon said: “I have been told not to say anything.”
Officers who searched properties in London and Norfolk occupied by Mr Roussev, Mr Dzhambazov, and Ms Ivanova in February, allegedly found fake passports for a number of European countries.
As well as fake passports, police also allegedly seized identity cards from Bulgaria, France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece and the Czech Republic.
The trio have also been charged with the possession of false identity documents. All five defendants were arrested in February under the Official Secrets Act.
Alleged operation run from guesthouse
Mr Roussev is alleged to have run the operation out of a guesthouse in Norfolk. He moved to the UK in 2009.
Mr Roussev, Mr Dzhambazov and Ms Ivanova are understood to have lived in the UK for several years, working different jobs and living in a range of suburban houses.
Mr Dzhambazov and Ms Ivanova were detained at their flat in Harrow, where neighbours described them as quiet and unremarkable.
He is believed to work as a driver for hospitals, while she describes herself as a laboratory assistant for a medical business based in central London.
The Bulgarians also had links to a flat in north-west London located a mile away from the RAF Northolt military base.
The base is frequently used by ministers, foreign heads of state and members of the royal family.
Nick Price, head of the CPS Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said: “The CPS has authorised a charge of conspiracy to conduct espionage against three men and two women suspected of spying for Russia.
“The charges follow an investigation by the Metropolitan Police. Criminal proceedings against the five individuals are active and they each have the right to a fair trial.”