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Finding Francesco Gullino, aka Agent 'Piccadilly'

Agent Piccadilly? Francesco Gullino in 2012 A Danish citizen, born in Bra, Italy, on 31 May 1945, Francesco Gullino has long been considered to be the prime suspect in the murder of Georgi Markov in September 1978.

Gullino allegedly also was used as a Bulgarian espionage agent in Denmark. In February 1993, based on information from Bulgarian authorities, the Danish National Commissar, Department G (PET) charged Gullino with “violation of section 107 of the Danish Criminal Code, alternatively section 108 of the same Code.”

Section 107 read,

Any person who, being in the service of any foreign power or organization or for the use of persons engaged in such service, inquires into or gives information on matters which, having regard to Danish state or public interests, should be kept secret, shall, whether or not the information is correct, be guilty of espionage and liable to imprisonment for any term not exceeding 16 years.

On 5 February 1993, Danish police, two Scotland Yard detectives investigating the murder of Georgi Markov, and one Bulgarian investigator, interrogated Gullino for at least six hours. He was fingerprinted and released from custody without admitting culpability for either espionage or for his involvement in the murder of Georgi Markov.

Danish authorities requested official copies or original documents from Bulgaria in order to prosecute Gullino. In the meantime, Gullino moved out of Denmark and effectively dropped out of sight. Danish newspapers printed an article about Gullino and the allegations against him and a Danish tv program on the murder of Markov identified him as a suspect. Bulgaria did not provide the documents and, apparently, the statute of limitations expired on espionage activities in Denmark.

In my book Cold War Radio, I go into some detail how Radio Free Europe (RFE) found Gullino in 1995 in Budapest, Hungary. He was contacted for an interview for RFE. He asked for time to think about it and then apparently left Hungary, without doing the interview.

Murdered Bulgarian Emigré Georgi Markov Afterwards, there was no trace of him until 2002, when reportedly he was detained on the German or Austrian border with the Czech Republic on suspicion that a painting in his possession was stolen. He was not charged and again seemed to have disappeared.

 During the research for the 2013 documentary film Silenced: The Writer Georgi Markov and the Umbrella Murder; Gullino was located in Wels, Austria, where he works as an art dealer. He is registered with the Danish Embassy in Budapest, has a new or renewed Danish passport, and receives a monthly Danish social security payment. He agreed to be interviewed for the film.

The world premiere of the film was in Sofia, Bulgaria in March. Below are excerpts from that interview with film director Klaus Dexel. He not only denies involvement in the Markov murder, but also he resurrects the 1980s Communist propaganda that Markov’s death was part of the West’s Cold War conspiracy against Bulgaria.

Q. Were you the murderer of Georgi Markov, or not?

A. I have nothing to do with this story. I am sorry. I wish I could give you a straight answer. But, think for a moment. If I were the murderer, do you think I should just say it? The real truth, you don’t throw it away because it is so important. But for your broadcasting, you can just say what want, just like all the others. … But in general, why should one say the truth? What for? You live so well with lies. Isn’t it? Or say nothing.

While Gullino’s English is not perfect, it is very good. In the rest of the taped interview, Gullino then gives his views on the Cold War and the murder of Georgi Markov:

Cold War. The situation. The period. They were just accusing one each other for the most horrible things. Weren’t they? Weren’t the British, the Americans, the West, the Germans, whatever, finding any occasion they could to say something bad about the East. And in the East, they did the same thing about the West. That was part of the attitude they had for the period of the Cold War.

It was normal for the day. What kind of British newspaper would say that life was better in Bulgaria, or in Russia, or whatever. They would say there were bad people; it was cold, nothing to eat, or whatever. And there is no freedom; there is no standard of living… On the other hand, in the eastern countries they would have said that in England everything is decadent, impoverished. They were accusing one another for many years of … well, you know very well, yes, if this Mister died on his very own? But on the other hand, … the country of Bulgaria was never very famous for nothing, really nothing important in the Cold War contest, you see? Like Pope, Hungary, Czech, or Poland.  They were always talking so much about Poland. And why not also give a bit to the Bulgarians? Just a bit.

But, the very fact that nothing happened to me proves that nobody was really serious about me. But of course in the story, especially in those days, was an interesting story. When it happened 30 or 40 years ago. I think even a Japanese newspaper reported it. So it was quite a big story because … it was so exciting. You understand? As I told you before, the dark evening, the foggy evening, the London Bridge, the umbrella, so British the umbrella. Did they say I had a bough on the head with thorns? Conan Doyle could have made it.

The film next will be shown at the Documentary Film Festival in Munich in May 2013. A shorter version of the film will be televised on the German network ZDF and the French network ARTE. The film has touched the nerves of former Bulgarian intelligence agents and collaborators who have charged in newspaper articles and in television interviews that Markov died from a cat scratch that was falsely diagnosed by British doctors.

For more information:

Details on Gullino’s alleged espionage activities for Bulgaria are documented in Hristo Hritov’s book, The Double Life of Agent Piccadilly that is available to download as an e-book at www.hristo-hristov.com

Also, Chapter 3, “Piccadilly vs. the Tramp: the Murder of Georgi Markov” in Richard H. Cummings' Cold War Radio: the dangerous History of American Broadcasting in Europe, 1950 – 1989, which was reviewed in The History Herald, 6 October 2012.

2012 Photograph of Francisco Gullino and interview extracts courtesy of film director Klaus Dexel.

About The Author

Richard H Cummings is the former Director of Security for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and the author of "Cold War Radio: The Dangerous History of American Broadcasting in Europe, 1950-1989" (2009) and "Radio Free Europe's 'Crusade for Freedom': Rallying Americans Behind Cold War Broadcasting, 1950-1960" (2010).