Earlier an MI5 officer claimed Mike Hancock became the target of a Russian spy agency’s “honeytrap” operation due to his history of extra-marital affairs that made him “vulnerable”.
An immigration panel was told yesterday that the British security services only showed interest in Katia Zatuliveter working for Hancock after Anna Chapman was kicked out of the US for espionage.
Zatuliveter, 26, is suspected of using her position as a researcher and mistress of Hancock to pass information to Russian intelligence.
The 26-year-old, who is fighting to remain in the country, admitted to the tribunal that she had an affair with the Portsmouth South MP, but denies using her position as his parliamentary assistant to pass on sensitive information to Moscow.
Hancock wrote to Liberal Democrat chief whip Alistair Carmichael offering his resignation from the cross-party committee, which scrutinises the work of the Ministry of Defence, in order to allow it to “continue with its work unimpaired by current events”.
In an exchange of letters released by the party, he made clear he hoped to resume membership once the case is concluded.
“It is not appropriate for me to provide running commentary on on-going legal proceedings, however, I would like to make clear that at no time did I pass on material to Ms Zatuliveter which was not in the public domain or which was classified,” wrote Hancock.
“I hope that we can revisit my membership following the conclusion of the on-going case.”
The female MI5 officer giving evidence, referred to only as ZZ, said her agency believed Zatuliveter was “directed by the Russian Intelligence Service” to begin a sexual relationship with the married 65-year-old.
While conceding the their four-year affair may have blossomed into a “genuine” relationship, the officer said Zatuliveter had remained “involved in espionage activities”.
Zatuliveter, also known as Katia, was arrested in December on suspicion of using her job in the office of Hancock to pass information to Russian intelligence. She was not charged, but British authorities want to deport her as a danger to national security.
Zatuliveter denies spying and is asking the Special Immigration Appeals Commission to block her extradition. The case, expected to last until next Wednesday, is being heard by three judges and a former head of the MI5 intelligence agency.
Hancock has said Zatuliveter worked as a researcher in his office for two-and-a-half years, but was not involved in sensitive matters. In a statement, he said that “at no time, did I pass on to Zatuliveter any information that was not in the public domain or any classified information”.
Zatuliveter said she met Hancock in Moscow in 2006 and they began an affair that continued when she moved to Britain to study. But she denied an allegation by Jonathan Glasson, a lawyer for the British government, that she targeted Hancock because he was influential in British politics.
“I don’t think that he is very influential,” she said. “He is a backbench MP.”
Asked why she thought Hancock would be of interest to Russian spies, she replied: “I have no idea what would be of interest to the Russian Intelligence Service.”
Zatuliveter said she was first questioned by British intelligence officials in August 2010 when she was asked how she could afford her London apartment on a researcher’s salary. She said she replied that Hancock helped her out financially.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has dismissed the spying accusations as “paranoid” and an attempt to undermine British-Russian relations.