Diplomat expelled from Russian embassy after revelations on spies' Irish passports

Wed, Feb 2, 2011, 00:00

WHEN A long-running Russian espionage ring was uncovered in the US last summer, initial reports suggested an intriguing Irish footnote to the story.

US investigators broke up the spy network in June with the arrests of 10 people in New York, Boston, New Jersey and Virginia. All 10 admitted conspiring to act as unregistered foreign agents. Many had lived in the US under false identities for years.

They were later deported to Russia as part of a spy-swap deal which also included the return of four people convicted in Russia of spying for the West.

Documents released by the US justice department at the time claimed that one of the 10, who used the assumed name Richard Murphy, flew to Rome in February last year where he was instructed to collect a forged Irish passport in the name of Eunan Gerard Doherty before flying on to Moscow.

Gardaí later interviewed Eunan Gerard Doherty, from Carndonagh, Co Donegal, after it emerged his passport details had been stolen for use in the counterfeit documentation. His wife Maureen was later informed her passport had also been compromised. The couple had travelled to Russia on holiday in 2005.

In October, gardaí confirmed they were investigating the fraudulent use of six Irish passports by members of the spy ring. A passport belonging to a female volunteer with the Irish charity To Russia With Love, which works with orphans across Russia, was among those implicated.

All six passport holders had been granted visas at the Russian embassy in Dublin, located on Orwell Road in Rathgar.

The Garda investigation into allegations that false Irish passports had been used by the Russian agents was undertaken in conjunction with the passport service of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The inquiry is understood to have been completed within recent weeks.

In a statement yesterday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Garda investigation had concluded: “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.”

Acting on the Garda report’s findings, the Cabinet yesterday decided to expel a diplomat at the Russian embassy.

The Russians appear unperturbed by the matter. Shortly after Russian ambassador Mikhail Timoshkin was informed that a Garda investigation was under way in October, the Kremlin bestowed some of Russia’s highest honours on the 10 returned spies.

These included Anna Chapman (28) who has since traded on her notoriety to become a TV personality in her home country and a regular tabloid feature elsewhere.

It is not the first time Russian diplomats have been expelled from Ireland. In 1983, the government of then taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald expelled three Russian diplomats.