- Print This Post Print This Post

by John Helmer, Moscow 

High British Government officials, security insiders, and employees of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers in London  confirmed this week that Sergei (lead image, left) and Yulia Skripal (right) are under tight guard, constant surveillance, cut off from their family without limit of time, in isolation and incommunicado. This is not prison, the British say – it is New Zealand.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, says the Skripals are not in New Zealand. Ardern is running for re-election in the poll due in three months’ time on September 19;  according to the current polls, she is the most popular leader of the country in a hundred years.  Doing favours for the British secret services and telling lies about it are risks Ardern doesn’t need to run to secure votes.

“The former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia have begun a new life in New Zealand”, reported the Sunday Times, “according to senior government sources…A senior government source with knowledge of the risk assessment carried out on the couple at the time of the move, said the Skripals had been given new identities and support to start a new life.”

Another source identified by the newspaper said he had been “astonished” to receive a Christmas card from the Skripals, but the envelope has disappeared. The source told the newspaper he remembered there was no return address but he couldn’t recall what the postage stamp revealed, or which Christmas year the card celebrated.

Left: Sunday Times report of June 7, 2020, reported by Caroline Wheeler (right).

The Sun, report of June 6-7, 2020; author, Richard Moriarty.

Another Murdoch publication, The Sun, reported the Skripals have “fled Britain after two years in an MI5 safe house.” The newspaper quoted a Skripal relative in Russia as saying “they’re alive, somewhere, somehow, and that we’re very unlikely to see them again.” This week, according to The Sun, she suspects they might be in New Zealand. Two years ago, she said she suspected they were in the US. Other newspapers have repeated the story.  

At the beginning of March, the London press claimed the Skripals were under “house arrest” while the British were negotiating to transport them to Australia or New Zealand. An Australian federal police source responded there was “no verification that the [London] article is correct.”   A BBC reporter and MI6 spokesman, Mark Urban, has claimed there were earlier attempts by the British to move the Skripals to another English-speaking country but they had come to nothing.

Prime Minister Ardern (right) was asked if the Skripals were in New Zealand and if the New Zealand Government had negotiated an agreement with the British to receive and secure them. She replied through spokesman Laura Kavanagh in Wellington. “We refer you to the Prime Minister’s public comments made on this, along with Immigration New Zealand’s comment.” Ardern had told the New Zealand (NZ) press the day before  that she was reluctant to comment on individual cases. “What I can say is don’t believe every piece of speculation that you read.” Asked what NZ would gain from taking in the Skripals, Ardern replied she wouldn’t get into “hypotheticals”, repeating: “you shouldn’t necessarily believe everything you read.”

The NZ immigration agency had announced on Monday they had “no record” that the Skripals had entered the country. Ardern was asked if that was a cover for their entry under new names and documents. For Arden, Kavanagh replied: “Immigration New Zealand has found no record of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia entering New Zealand.”

Other NZ press reports have cited a former US Government intelligence analyst, Paul Buchanan,  now living in NZ, for warning the London press story may be a plant to divert attention from the real location and condition of the Skripals. Buchanan was also sceptical the Ardern government has political reason for agreeing to a British request to hide the Skripals. “The country had not joined allies in expelling Russian diplomats back in 2018, as Ardern said she was satisfied there were no ‘undeclared intelligence officers’ from Russia in the country. We didn’t show solidarity in the symbolic gesture of expelling Russian diplomats. Why on earth would we do a much heavier thing, which is to accept these two people basically as refugees?”  

Kay Weir of the Pacific Institute of Resource Management in Wellington commented that NZ has been trying to avoid being drawn into political targeting by the US, UK, Australia and Canada, the other members of the “Five-Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance: “The Skripal story is an unwanted complication right now. NZ did not sign on to a Five-Eyes statement condemning China over  its new security legislation to deter foreign interference in Hong Kong. Separately, NZ did express some concern, but didn’t sign on to the Five-Eyes Joint Statement.” 

Legal experts in London suspect the press leaks may be a scheme by British officials to deter lawyers from seeking a British court order for the Skripals to appear and testify in court. For the first time since the Novichok attack by Russian military assassins allegedly occurred in Salisbury on March 4, 2018, a High Court hearing will open next month in London to review the evidence of what happened, assembled by the Wiltshire country coroner; for details, read this.

“They would need to try to get a witness summons to secure their [Sergei and Yulia Skripal] attendance and apply for service overseas,” a London lawyer said. “Typically that is done through Hague Convention, but New Zealand doesn’t seem to be party to the relevant part on securing evidence abroad and has its own procedures.”  The Hague Evidence Convention can be read here.  

According to this review of NZ legal practice in 2005, so long as NZ stays outside the Hague Convention, “overseas counsel who wish to have a person in New Zealand examined for the purpose of a foreign proceeding will need to determine whether that witness is willing to give evidence.” The NZ courts lack the power to order unwilling witnesses to give evidence in foreign courts. There is no precedent for tracing witnesses like the Skripals if the British authorities refuse to reveal their identities.

NZ remains outside the Hague Evidence Convention still. So too, Canada. The three other Five-Eyes states have signed the convention. To keep the Skripals in hiding but outside the reach of the British courts, NZ and Canada remain legal options for the British secret services. So long as they are hidden there, a lawyer adds, “it is unlikely that a London court would compel the Government to produce them and if they have been given new identities, then there could be separate litigation around that point.”

Leave a Reply