A RUSSIAN diplomat is being expelled from Ireland after a garda investigation found that its intelligence service was behind the forgery of six Irish passports.
The official at the Russian Embassy in Ballsbridge, south Dublin, has been ordered to leave the country within a fortnight following a decision by the Department of Foreign Affairs to withdraw his diplomatic status.
Criminal charges cannot be brought against the man because of diplomatic immunity, which protects officials attached to foreign embassies.
The details from six genuine Irish passports were used on fake documents supplied to a Russian spy ring based in the US.
The agents had worked undercover in the US for a decade before being caught in an FBI operation involving intercepted phone calls last June.
The FBI tipped off authorities in Dublin about the fraudulent use of the passport details and an investigation was set up, headed by officers from the garda's liaison and protection section and the Passport Service from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Gardai prepared a report which was then sent to Foreign Affairs through the Department of Justice.
The report concluded that there was "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 findings were considered by the Government at yesterday's cabinet meeting.
Foreign secretary general David Cooney subsequently summoned the Russian Ambassador, Mikhail Timoshkin, to the department yesterday afternoon.
Mr Timoshkin was informed that the activities of the Russian intelligence services "in connection with the forgery of Irish passports and the effective theft of the identity of six Irish citizens" were unacceptable and not the behaviour the Government would expect from a country with which Ireland had friendly relations.
He was told the accreditation of a named member of his staff was being ended, in line with the provisions of the Vienna Convention, and the man had to leave the country.
Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it was regrettable this action had been necessary, but the primary responsibility of the Government was to ensure the security and well-being of Irish citizens, which included protection of the integrity of Irish passports.
It said the Government had again made clear that it would not tolerate the fabrication and use of forged Irish passports by agents of a foreign State.
Earlier last year, an Israeli diplomat was expelled from Dublin in retaliation for abuses of Irish passports by Israeli agents.
This followed the disclosure that forged Irish passports had been used by Israeli agents who were alleged to have murdered Hamas activist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a hotel in Dubai.
In both Russian and Israeli cases, the passports were of a type produced before the introduction of new design and security standards in 2005. The new biometric passport is regarded as one of the best in the world.