British court: “Zatuliveter not a Russian spy”

In an embarrassing setback for the British Government, a British court has today ruled that Ekaterina Zatuliveter is not a Russian spy, and that she should be allowed to remain in the UK.

The British Government had been trying to deport Zatuliveter, who had had an affair with her employer – the British MP Mike Hancock – on the grounds that allowing her to remain in the UK would not be “conducive to the public good”.

In its report (available in full here and well worth reading), the Special Immigration Appeals Commission explained its conclusion

“Our conclusion, at least on the balance of probabilities, is that she was and is not a Russian agent. Even if she was approached in Russia by the FSB/SVR, we have seen nothing which satisfies us that she was recruited as an agent or was tasked, or acted, as one. We have not reached that conclusion by a narrow margin. We are satisfied that it is significantly more likely than not that she was and is not a Russian agent. 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. That does not fit all that we know about the appellant’s age, background and characteristics. Accordingly, we allow this appeal.”

In its verdict, the Commission stressed its belief that Zatuliveter’s relationships with politicians and senior European NATO officials had indeed been genuine relationships and that, although Russia would certainly have been interested in her had it been aware of her activities, there was absolutely no evidence to indicate, even on balance of probabilities, that she was in the employ of the Russian Government.

The judgement is widely seen as a humiliation for MI5 and the British Government – an indication either that it cannot properly identify a Russian spy, or that it is unable to force Russian spies to leave the country.

In its report, the Commission went out of its way to note that it believed that there had been grounds to pursue the case, and that MI5’s investigation had been thorough and competent. But it’s difficult to agree with this assessment when you consider the following, as reported by British newspaper the Guardian:

“An MI5 witness cited Zatuliveter’s visit to the Tricycle Theatre in north London to see The Great Game, a series of plays on Britain and Russia’s historical relationship with Afghanistan, as evidence of her spying activities. The witness apologised when it was put to her that The Great Game had “nothing to do with spying”, explaining that she had heard the phrase was coined by Rudyard Kipling in his book, Kim.”

Adding to the British Government’s embarrassment is the fact that one of the members of the panel that reached today’s verdict was Sir Stephen Lander, who was a previous head of MI5, the British intelligence agency that sought to have Zatuliveter sent back to Russia.

There is no news yet about whether Zatuliveter plans to remain in the UK, or if she just wished to prove the point, but her lawyers told reporters: “Today in its historic decision the Special Immigration Appeals Commission has cleared Katia and cancelled the deportation order. Katia is definitely very glad with the ruling and hopes to leave behind this episode.”

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