Russian diplomat to be expelled

Tue, Feb 1, 2011, 00:00

The Government has announced it will expel a Russian diplomat following a Garda investigation that concluded Russian intelligence agents stole the identities of six Irish citizens to produce fake Irish passports used by members of a spy ring uncovered in the US last year.

"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," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The decision to expel the diplomat was taken at a Cabinet meeting earlier today. The secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs subsequently met with the Russian Ambassador to inform him that the identity theft and forgery of passports by Russian agents was "completely unacceptable and not the behaviour the Government would expect from a country with which we have friendly relations."

The department said Ireland regretted the need to expel a diplomat from the Russian embassy. "However, the primary responsibility of the Government is to ensure the security and well-being of Irish citizens, which includes protection of the integrity of Irish passports. The Government, by today's action, 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 is hoped that it will be possible to move on from this disturbing incident and to develop further the relationship between Ireland and the Russian Federation which is fundamentally strong and which has significant potential."

The statement did not identify the official or the date when the official must leave Ireland.

US investigators broke up the Russian espionage ring last June with the arrest of 10 people in New York, Boston, New Jersey and Virginia. All 10, who were later deported as part of a spy swap deal with Russia, admitted conspiring to act as unregistered foreign agents.

A passport belonging to a female volunteer with the Irish charity To Russia With Love, which works with orphans across Russia, was among the six compromised.

Another Irish passport holder, Eunan Gerard Doherty, from Carndonagh, Co Donegal, was interviewed by gardaí last summer after it emerged his passport details had also been implicated.

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

Mr Doherty had travelled to Russia on holiday in 2005. It is understood his wife Maureen has been told that her passport may also have been compromised.

Last year an investigation into the use of forged Irish passports by suspects in the assassination of a senior Hamas official in Dubai concluded that Israel was likely to have been responsible for cloning the eight Irish passports implicated. An official at the Israeli embassy in Dublin was expelled as a gesture of protest.

Fine Gael foreign affairs spokesman Sean Barrett TD welcomed the decision.

“The fraudulent use of Irish passports is unacceptable and diplomatic action had to be taken,” he said. “The integrity and security of the Irish passport and the passport service should never be called into question and it is only right that an official in the Russian Embassy has been expelled from the State.”