A Russian woman accused of spying while working for a British MP will not be deported
A RUSSIAN woman accused of spying for Moscow while working for a British MP has won her appeal against deportation after insisting she is innocent.
Britain’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) has ruled that 26-year-old Katia Zatuliveter was not liaising with Russian intelligence services while working as a researcher for Mike Hancock, a 65-year-old MP with whom she had an affair.
Britain wanted to deport her on the grounds that her presence was a danger to national security.
Hancock, the member of parliament for Portsmouth South on England’s south coast, the city where the Royal Navy is based, sat on parliament’s defence select committee, which scrutinises government defence policy and expenditure.
«Our conclusion, at least on the balance of probabilities, is that she was and is not a Russian agent,» SIAC chairman judge John Mitting said in his written ruling.
Ms Zatuliveter was stopped at London Gatwick Airport in August last year, and arrested in December amid fears she was engaged in spying.
The SIAC panel heard that she had a string of relationships, mostly sexual, with unidentified officials from European countries when she acted as a chaperone to delegates attending conferences in Russia.
Ms Zatuliveter said after the ruling: «I feel fine. I am very happy. Incredible relief.»
In his ruling, Mr Mitting said that even if Ms Zatuliveter was approached by the Russian security services, «we have seen nothing which satisfies us that she was recruited as an agent or was tasked, or acted, as one.
«We cannot exclude the possibility that we have been gulled – but, if we have been, it has been by a supremely competent and rigorously trained operative,» he said.
«That does not fit all that we know about the appellant’s age, background and characteristics. Accordingly, we allow this appeal.
«Although we have disagreed with the (British) Security Service’s assessment, we note … that there were ample grounds for suspicion.»
In breaking down the points put by the domestic security service MI5, the panel said they were satisfied that Ms Zatuliveter was «not tasked to seduce» Mr Hancock and their relationship was «enduring and genuine on both sides».
There was no evidence that suggests or shows that she «exploited her relationships for the purposes of the Russian state».
While her activities would have been «of great interest» to the Russian security services, they were also «entirely consistent» with her career ambitions and interests.
Mr Mitting’s ruling said the Russian security services had «ample opportunity to approach her».
Ms Zatuliveter insisted they had not done so, but «this was the one aspect of her evidence about which we had real reservations», he said.
The SIAC chairman said she was «defensive» when asked about the Russian intelligence agencies and professed an ignorance of them that was «inconsistent» with her knowledge of international affairs.
Ms Zatuliveter could have had good reasons for wishing to deny an approach: she intends to return to Russia and her family lives there, the ruling said.
In private testimony before the SIAC, it said she had the chance «obliquely to acknowledge that an approach had been made», while being able to deny to the Russians that she had done so.
She politely declined the opportunity and insisted she had never been approached.
«It is possible that her answer is true. We simply do not know,» the ruling said.
The Home Office interior ministry said it was disappointed with the ruling.
«The court ruled that there were ample grounds for suspicion,» a spokeswoman said.
«We are therefore very disappointed by the court’s judgment and stand by our decision to pursue deportation on national security grounds.»