Russian diplomat expelled over spy ring

A RUSSIAN diplomat has been expelled from Ireland after a Garda report found that the Russian intelligence service was behind the “forgery and effective theft” of Irish passports.

Six such passports — based on stolen data from genuine Irish passports — were used in a deep-cover Russian spy ring exposed in the US last June.

The head of the Department of Foreign Affairs told the Russian ambassador in person yesterday afternoon that the activities of Russian spies were “completely unacceptable” and not the behaviour of a friendly country.

In a statement the department said a Garda investigation into the matter, conducted in conjunction with the Passport Office, had concluded.

“The Garda Síochána report concludes that there is an entirely persuasive picture of Russian intelligence service involvement in the manufacture and use of false documents based on the acquisition of details of six genuine passports belonging to Irish citizens.”

It said the Government had considered the findings of the report and agreed a course of action proposed by outgoing foreign affairs minister Brian Cowen.

“The secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs [David Cooney] subsequently met with the Russian ambassador this afternoon to inform the ambassador that the activities of Russian intelligence services in connection with the forgery of Irish passports and the effective theft of the identity of six Irish citizens are completely unacceptable and not the behaviour the Government would expect from a country with which we have friendly relations.

The Ambassador [Mikhail Timoshkin] was also told that the accreditation of a named member of his staff with diplomatic status is to be terminated, in line with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. “The individual in question has been asked to leave this jurisdiction by a specified date.” It is understood the diplomat has been given two weeks to leave.

The six Irish people included a married couple from Donegal and a volunteer with Irish charity, To Russia With Love. They applied to the Russian Embassy for visas between 2002 and 2003.

The statement said it was “regrettable” the action was necessary, but said the “primary responsibility” of the Government was to ensure the security of Irish citizens, including the integrity of Irish passports.

“The Government has once again made clear that it will not tolerate the fabrication and use of forged Irish passports by agents of a foreign state,” it said.

It is understood gardaí received “limited co-operation” from Russian authorities in their investigation, but “enough” to come to a conclusion of illegality.

The Irish Examiner did not get a response from the Russian Embassy.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said: “We spelt out as clearly as we possibly could facts that we found during the course of that investigation.”

Last June an Israeli diplomat was expelled after forged Irish passports were used by the Israeli secret service to travel to Dubai to assassinate a Hamas leader.

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