PORTSMOUTH South MP Mike Hancock’s former aide and alleged mistress today won her appeal against government attempts to deport her back to Russia.
At the conclusion of a Special Immigration Appeals Commission hearing in central London Katia Zatuliveter listened as Judge John Mitting told her he was not convinced by Home Office allegations of espionage and she would be allowed to remain in the UK.
The 26-year-old - who appealed against a deportation order made in December last year - worked as a parliamentary assistant to the Portsmouth South MP and claims they had an affair for nearly four years.
After the ruling, she emerged refusing to answer questions from waiting reporters save to say that she felt ‘ecstatic’ and adding: ‘I am very happy with the ruling.’
Reading a statement in behalf of her client, solicitor Tessa Gregory said: ‘For her the last year has been a Kafka-esque nightmare.
‘It is a testament to her openness that the court found in her favour. Katia is obviously delighted by the judgement.
‘She just wants to put this whole episode behind her. However it should not have taken 12 months of costly legal proceedings to arrive at this outcome.’
She added that the government’s case was built on ‘speculation, prejudice and conjecture’ and should never have come to court.
Mr Hancock said after the ruling : ‘I’m delighted by the judgement. I never believed for one minute that she was guilty of anything.
‘I think the security services have behaved appallingly. I think they were just trying to wear her down in the hope she would go home.’
In the commission’s written judgement it said: ‘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 she was recruited as an agent or was tasked, or acted, as one. We have not reached that conclusion by a narrow margin.’
The government believes Miss Zatuliveter ‘targeted’ 65-year-old Hancock because he sat on the influential defence select committee and because of rumours he had previously had extramarital affairs.
But its lawyers were unable to prove in court their claim that she had secretly been reporting military intelligence back to the Russian government.
The decision will relieve some of the pressure on the Lib Dem MP, who has already stepped down from his position on the defence committee.
Ms Zatuliveter, 26, had been accused of passing secrets to Moscow when she was a researcher - and mistress - to Mr Hancock.
Mr Justice John Mitting, the chairman of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), delivered his oral judgment in central London this morning.
The Home Office said it was disappointed with the ruling.
A spokeswoman said: ‘National security is the primary duty of government and we will take all necessary steps to protect the public from individuals we believe pose a threat and remove them from the UK.
‘The court ruled that there were ample grounds for suspicion.
‘We are therefore very disappointed by the court’s judgment and stand by our decision to pursue deportation on national security grounds.’
During the Siac tribunal, much of which was heard behind closed doors because of national security, the lawyer acting on behalf of the Home Secretary, Jonathan Glasson, said Miss Zatuliveter targeted Mr Hancock, 65, because he was ‘potentially vulnerable’”.
He told the hearing the Portsmouth South MP was known to have had a number of extra-marital affairs.
‘You knew that Mr Hancock’s private life might make him potentially vulnerable,’” he told the Russian in cross examination.
The parliamentarian was also a member of the Defence Select Committee at the time of the affair, which the Home Secretary’s lawyer said would have made him of particular interest to the Kremlin.
Responding to Miss Zatuliveter’s comment that he was just a backbench MP, he said: ‘He’s not just a backbench MP though, is he? He’s a member of the Defence Select Committee.’
The Siac panel also heard the Russian had a string of relationships, mostly sexual, with unidentified officials from European countries when she acted as a chaperone to delegates attending conferences in Russia.
An expert witness for the defence, Nicholas Fielding, told the Siac panel the UK security service case against Miss Zatuliveter was more a ‘risk assessment’” than an evidence-based cas”.
Speaking of the elements that make up the case, the defence expert on Russia said: ‘It runs the risk of appearing to be like a bunch of drunks walking down the road.
‘By adding bits to it, it may seem that it adds strength, but if one thing doesn’t add up, you run the risk of making the whole thing collapse.’
Miss Zatuliveter was stopped at Gatwick Airport in August last year, and was arrested in December amid fears she was engaged in espionage.
The Government wanted to deport her on the grounds that her presence is a danger to national security.
Mr Justice Mitting chaired the panel and sat alongside Mark Ockleton and Sir Stephen Lander.