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Russian diplomat in passport scandal returns home

THIS is the Russian who was named as the senior diplomat expelled from Ireland following a garda investigation into the use of Irish passports by Russian spies.

Alexander Smirnov, who was first secretary in the consular visa section of the Russian Embassy in Dublin, was ordered to leave the country after a garda report found that the identities of six Irish citizens were used by spies arrested in the US last summer.

Mr Smirnov appeared far removed from such intrigue when he stepped in for the ambassador, Mikhail Tomo-shkin, to attend a function for the Chernobyl Children's Appeal in Lucan last summer.

Mr Smirnov, who cut a striking figure on the dip-lomatic circuit, is pictured with the Fine Gael councillor, Derek Keating, who is now a candidate in the General Election.

Mr Keating founded the charity to bring children from Chernobyl on an annual holiday to Ireland every summer. He said this weekend that he found the Russian man to be charming.

"Last year we were visited by a Russian Embassy official -- Mr Alexander Smirnov, First Secretary Consular Affairs to the Russian Ambassador to Ireland. As co-ordinator of the project, it was my responsibility to meet him.

"We have always found the Russian Embassy to be helpful in our difficulties to bringing these needy children to Ireland," said Mr Keating.

Another Irish charity, To Russia With Love, featured prominently in the spying scandal that followed the expulsion of 10 Russian spies from the US last summer.

The passport details of six Irish citizens, including a volunteer with Debbie Deegan's charity, were among those used by some of the spies. Another was a Donegal man who travelled to Russia with his wife on holidays in 2005.

Officials at the Russian Embassy, who enjoy diplomatic immunity, were not questioned by garda investigators.

The Department of Foreign Affairs received the investigation report last month.

The department asked the Government to terminate the accreditation for the diplomat named in the report.

The Russian ambassador was informed last Tuesday week and Mr Smirnov was given two weeks to leave the country. He left Ireland for Russia last Monday.

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy confirmed this weekend that Mr Smirnov had left the country following a "decision of the Irish Government".

Mr Smirnov was "not pleased" to be leaving the country for Russia but did so in accordance with the decision of the Irish Government, according to the spokesman.

Mr Smirnov appears to have had a low profile in diplomatic circles until he was named as the person at the centre of the passports row.

Mr Smirnov, a married father of two, lived in Dublin for several years working in the embassy's consular department.

His son was born in the National Maternity Hospital last year and a second child, who is a student in Russia, regularly holidayed here, according to a spokesman for the Russian Embassy.

Russia appears to have been if not shaken, then stirred by the department's termination of accreditation of one of its top diplomat.

Russian news agencies quoted the deputy foreign minister, Vladimir Titov, warning that the order was "clearly an unfriendly step that will not go unanswered".

The incident comes at a time when Ireland is trying to boost trade and investment links with Russia.

Sunday Independent