An internationally-recognised beautician specialising in nails and ‘Russian mega-volume’ lashes accused of being a spy for Moscow in Britain had claimed £20,000 in state-funded grants during the pandemic, it was revealed today.
Bulgarian-national Vanya Gaberova, 29, ran a west London beauty salon called Pretty Woman and lived with her boyfriend, an unnamed decorator, in a nearby flat.
According to its annual accounts she was handed a £10,000 coronavirus grant and later a £10,000 bounce-back loan from the British government after multiple lockdowns.
Pretty Woman opened in 2019 and has glowing reviews on Google. One customer wrote earlier this year: ‘Many thanks to Vanya , she did the wonderful manicure to me You make sure every client is happy with your work, which is wonderful customer service’. She also has top marks on Treatwell, for her manicures and eyelash extensions.
Certificates on the wall of the salon show Gaberova had taken part in several eyebrow extension competitions in London and Bulgaria as well as an online-only contest in Russia.
Neighbours described Vanya as a warm but ‘timid’ woman while a restaurateur near her beauty bar in Acton expressed his shock, declaring: ‘If she is a spy, she was a good one’.
Ms Gaberova, Orlin Roussev, 45, Bizer Dzhambazov, 41, Katrin Ivanova, 31 and Ivan Stoyanov, 31, will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on September 26. The suspected spies are accused of working on active operations in the UK and Europe and passing gathered intel to Russia.
Vanya Gaberova, 29, is one of five Bulgarian nationals who is accused of conspiring to gather information that would be useful to an enemy
Ms Gabervoa is the director of her own company, based in Acton, and is said to be talented at eyelash extensions
Vanya was described as a timid but meticulous beautician working from her Acton shop
Vanya is s specialist in eyelashes, including 5-star reviews for her ‘Russian volume’ style at £130 a pop
She worked from this Acton store, and claimed help from the state during the pandemic
(L-R) Orlin Roussev, 45, Katrin Ivanova, 31 and Bizer Dzhambazov, 41, were previously charged on February 11, 2023
Gaberova, 29, calls herself as a ‘lashes extensions specialist’ and is an ‘accredited eyelash educator’ who has won many prizes in the UK and Bulgaria — but also in Russia.
She is one of five Bulgarian nationals 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 interest of the state’ between 30 August 2020 and 8 February 2023.
Tiaago Nogueria runs a Portuguese restaurant, Villamoura, across the road from Pretty Woman. The business was closed yesterday – and the number disconnected – but a member staff answered the door but said: ‘I’ve been told not to talk’.
Mr Nogueria told The Times: ‘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’.
Social media profiles linked to Ms Gaberova describe her hobbies as ‘travelling, cooking, shopping, walking, and reading’
Ms Gaberova runs a company, VG PRETTY WOMAN LTD in Acton, and she is said to have studied at the University of National and World Economy in Bulgaria
Ms Gaberova, who lives in Churchway, northwest London, is set to appear at Westminster Magistrates Court next week
Ms Gaberova (circled on left) was among five Bulgarians arrested in February under the British Official Secrets Act following raids on properties in London and Great Yarmouth in Norfolk
Her company is named VG PRETTY WOMAN LTD and she is said to have studied at the University of National and World Economy in Bulgaria.
Her social media profile links her to ‘travelling, cooking, shopping, walking, and reading’.
Nick Price, head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)’s 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.’
Roussev, Dzhambazov, and Ivanova were previously charged on February 11, 2023, with possession of false identity documents.
The five defendants are alleged to have worked in an operational spy cell for the Russian security services, the BBC reports. This allegedly involved conducting surveillance on targets.
The five Bulgarians were arrested in February under the British Official Secrets Act following raids on properties in London and Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. MI5 allegedly passed the intelligence on to the Met Police.
Roussev, who has a history of business dealings in Russia, is alleged to have run things out of a guesthouse in Norfolk acting as a middle man to those who gathered intelligence.
Neighbours said a tent was erected by police outside the three-star Haydee Hotel in Great Yarmouth when he was detained. Investigators allegedly found equipment to produce false documents in his room.
Last month it emerged that Roussev and Dzhambazov and Ivanova – believed to be a couple who were living at the same address – were facing charges which allege they were in possession of 34 identity documents, some of which were suspected to be false.
Officers reportedly found allegedly fake passports and official identity documents for the UK, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, and the Czech Republic.
Orlin Roussev lived in this block of apartments in the seaside town of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk
Partying: Katrin Ivanova, right, is seen dancing at a Bulgarian restaurant in Palmers Green, north London
The trio were also accused of posing as journalists from American television companies after Scotland Yard found forged press cards and branded clothing from the Discovery and National Geographic channels, The Times reported.
They appeared at the Old Bailey in July to face those charges.
Roussev, Dzhambazov and Ivanova are understood to have lived in the UK for several years, working different jobs and living in a range of suburban houses.
The Bulgarians also had links to a flat in north-west London located a mile away from the RAF Northolt military base, according to The Telegraph. The base is frequently used by ministers, foreign heads of state and members of the royal family.
Roussev moved to the UK in 2009 and spent three years in financial services, working in a technical job, the BBC reports.
According to social media profiles, Dzhambazov worked as a hospital driver while Ivanova described herself as a laboratory assistant for a private healthcare business.
The pair also worked for electoral commissions in the capital that assisted Bulgarians living abroad with voting back in their homeland.
Neighbours said they were popular figures locally, having handed out cakes and pies to people living nearby.
Ivanova (circled) can be seen holding hands in a party circle at the Bulgarian restaurant in 2015
But eyebrows were raised when Dzhambazov installed a satellite dish on the side of his property, which appeared to be pointing in the wrong direction, compared to every other one in the street.
He then tried to put up an even bigger antenna on the exterior wall, until those living next door complained that it was going to block the light to their home, neighbours claimed.
Dzhambazov is also said to have told people nearby that he worked for Interpol.
One neighbour, James, told the Telegraph: ‘I do remember that they had their [satellite dish] pointed in a different direction to all the other ones.
‘At one stage, he had a friend around and they tried to mount a massive one on the wall. But it would have blocked out the light into my flat and so we had words about that and it didn’t happen.
‘When he arrived, he mounted a camera on the wall of his flat so it looked out across the car park. It’s still there.’
After moving to the UK around 10 years ago, they ran a community organisation for Bulgarians, including teaching them the ‘culture and norms of British society’.
Britain has been sharpening its focus on external security threats and in July it passed a new national security law, aiming to deter espionage and foreign interference with updated tools and criminal provisions.
Bizer Dzhambazov (left) and Ivanova are suspected of gathering information for Russia
Dzhambazov and Ivanova ran a community organisation providing services to Bulgarians. The group was called Bulgarian Social Platform and this is believed to be their offices
Dzhambazov and Ivanova were also both registered at the same address in Harrow, north London
The government labelled Russia ‘the most acute threat’ to its security when the law was passed.
Police have charged three Russians, who they say are GRU military intelligence officers, with the 2018 attempt to murder former double agent Sergei Skripal with the military-grade nerve agent Novichok. Two were charged in 2018 and the third in 2021.
Last year, Britain’s domestic spy chief said more than 400 suspected Russian spies had been expelled from Europe.
Britain has been one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine since the Russian invasion last year and has imposed a range of sanctions on Russian officials and oligarchs.
Roussev is from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, Dzhambazov is from Harrow, northwest London, Ivanova is from Harrow, northwest London, Stoyanov is from Greenford, west London, and Gaberova is from Churchway, northwest London.