MI5‘s investigation into an alleged Russian spy who had an affair with an MP was “more akin to Inspector Clouseau than George Smiley”, a tribunal was told.
Lawyers for Katia Zatuliveter, 26, the former lover of and researcher for Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock, launched a stinging attack on the way the case was presented to support the home secretary’s argument that she should be deported. It was closer to the Pink Panther inspector played by Peter Sellers than John Le Carre’s spymaster, Tim Owen QC told a hearing of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, Siac.
MI5’s case was “amateurish, poorly researched, incoherent, single-minded, misleading and, at times, frankly desperate”, Owen told the Siac panel chaired by Mr Justice Mitting which also includes the former head of MI5, Sir Stephen Lander.
Theresa May, the home secretary, wants to deport Zatuliveter on the grounds of national security. Siac heard Zatuliveter had a series of affairs including one with Hancock, a Lib Dem member of the Commons defence committee, who gave her £500 a month while she was studying at Bradford University. She also had affairs with with a Dutch diplomat and a Nato official.
Owen said the genuineness of her feelings for these men could be found in her diary. In a move Owen described as a “witch-hunt”, security officials questioned the authenticity of the diary’s contents but found no evidence to corroborate whether the diary was genuine or not.
Mitting said if the entries were faked to fit her case then it would have taken “considerable skill”. Dates, travel details and information about her relationships looked “entirely plausible”, he added.
Owen said MI5 had rushed to judge Zatuliveter. “It is a pretty odd person who chooses to stay and fight knowing they are a spy,” he said. “It has left the security service and the respondent (the Home Office) with not a single shred of evidence that Katia Zatuliveter has ever been an agent.”
MI5 had fought the case with unfounded speculation and supposition, hints and slurs and a pig-headed adherence to May’s pre-cast view, Owen added.
Jonathan Glasson, for the home secretary, said: “The security service maintains their strong assessment that the appellant is a recruited (Russian Intelligence Service) agent. There are two central lies – the appellant’s assertion that she was never approached by the RIS, other than meeting with the individual named as Boris, and the assertion that she is not in the RIS. We do say unequivocally these are lies.”
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 commission heard.
The Siac panel, which heard some of the case in secret, is expected to give its ruling at the end of November.
Tessa Gregory, Zatuliveter’s solicitor, said after the hearing: “She is not and never has been a Russian spy. During the course of these proceedings she has provided the court and the home secretary with an overwhelming amount of evidence to explain every aspect of her life in minute detail.”