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Femme fatale ruled not a spy, can stay in U.K.
LONDON — Immature, calculating, emotional and self-centered — yes. But almost certainly not a Russian spy.
That was a special immigration tribunal’s ruling Tuesday on the dramatic case of a young Russian woman accused by Britain of being a Russian agent after she had a long affair with a married British lawmaker.
The tribunal ruled that Ekaterina Zatuliveter — a 26-year-old blonde accused of passing parliamentary secrets to Russian intelligence — can remain in Britain because she does not pose a threat to national security.
The three-man tribunal — including a former head of MI5, the UK’s domestic intelligence agency — rejected the government’s claim that she used her charms to seduce Mike Hancock, a Liberal Democrat lawmaker serving on the sensitive Defense Committee.
Instead, they concluded, she is a young woman who was in love with a far older man who she believed might help her forge a new life in the West.
The tribunal was swayed in part by her diary, which described her infatuation with Mr. Hancock, who is in his 60s, and her belief that if she had sex with him, he would help her complete her education and move from Russia to Europe.
Still, the tribunal chaired by Judge John Mitting conceded that it is possible they were being fooled by an extremely skilled agent sent from Russia with little love for Britain and the West. And the tribunal accepted the government’s assertion that Mr. Hancock is a likely target for Russian intelligence.
“We cannot exclude the possibility that we have been gulled,” the report states. “But, if we have been, it has been by a supremely competent and rigorously trained operative.”
The report concludes that Ms. Zatuliveter’s motives were made clear in her diary entries that describe the pros and cons of a possible sexual relationship with Mr. Hancock.
“To sleep with him — no danger,” she wrote in 2006 shortly after they met when Mr. Hancock was on a parliamentary trip to Russia.
She ruminated on his suggestion that she move to Strasbourg, France, to continue their affair. “If all goes well, if I pass my exams well then I’ll go to Strasbourg and, possibly, I’ll get a very good chance in life, who knows.”
Later she described intimate feelings for Mr. Hancock and talked of him as her king.
The tribunal decided those were not the words of a trained secret agent who had been ordered to seduce a lawmaker. The panel said it accepted the authenticity of the diary, in part because the emotions described matched Ms. Zatuliveter’s character at the time, which they described as “immature, calculating, emotional and self-centered.”
The panel said the most likely explanation of her relationship with Mr. Hancock “is that, however odd it might seem, she fell for him.”
The British government can still pursue the deportation case in a higher court, but no decision on whether to continue the attempt to deport has been made public.
By Brahma Chellaney
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