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by John Helmer, Moscow

A London newspaper on Sunday, citing “security insiders” as the source, claims Sergei and Yulia Skripal are “desperate to leave the UK”, and are “living under house arrest…[at] a secret location where [they are] guarded by British intelligence agents.” The report also claims they “may have already travelled to Australia and New Zealand to scout possible locations.”

The newspaper report has appeared days before the second anniversary of the incident in Salisbury, England, on March 4, 2018. Then, according to British Government allegations, the Skripals were the targets of a murder attempt by a nerve agent manufactured in Russia and delivered by Russian assassins. The attempt failed.  

In the history of the British criminal law, the Skripals are the only targets of a crime who have not been allowed to testify in public nor communicate with their kin; Sergei Skripal was last heard of in a telephone call to his mother’s house on June 26, 2019; Yulia Skripal on July 18, 2018. The British authorities have yet to produce in court evidence of the crime, the weapon, the crime scene, or even the arrest warrants allegedly issued by the Crown Prosecution Service for the culprits.

The book, Skripal in Prison, just published, provides the full story.

Sources in the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the organisation in charge of witness protection in that country, indicate there is “no verification that the [London] article is correct.” The Australian Minister of Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, to whom the AFP reports, refuses to say whether the Skripals have visited Australia, or whether there has been any discussion with the British Government on relocation to Australia and protection for the Skripals. Nicole Chant, confirming her role as Dutton’s spokesman and agreeing to follow up on the London press report, said by telephone: “I don’t want to be referred to in any article.”

On Sunday,  a newspaper in London reported that  it “has been told the father and daughter are desperate to leave the UK for either Australia or New Zealand after effectively living under house arrest since the attack.” The newspaper’s “defence editor” also claimed he had “received unconfirmed reports that Mr Skripal, 68, and his daughter, 35, may have already travelled to Australia and New Zealand to scout possible locations.”

This is not the first time claims like these have been published in the British press only to be denied officially.  A BBC reporter named Mark Urban was briefed by MI6 to deny them. “There had been suggestions from Downing Street, while the Skripals were in hospital,  that they might well end up in America or another English-speaking country, and be given new identities. Neither of them, I hear, particularly liked this idea.”

The AFP source said that the police agency administers witness protection in Australia under the Witness Protection Act of 1994. While this statute covers mostly local witnesses and informers, it also has a specific provision for dealing with foreigners who are neither witnesses in Australian criminal cases nor local crime targets.   

Source: https://www.legislation.gov.au/

The statute also makes it a criminal offence for AFP sources to provide information about an “individual…undergoing assessment for inclusion in the NWPP [National Witness Protection Programme] at the time the information is disclosed.”

Left to right, the Australian counterparts for the British authorities in charge of the Skripals: Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton; the head of the Australian Federal Police, Reece Kershaw; head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Michael Burgess.

On Monday morning Dutton was asked several questions by email:

Nicole Chant, Dutton’s spokesman and head of his press office, confirmed by telephone that she had received the questions and requested time to respond.  The reply followed after several hours. “The Department does not comment on individual cases.”

From time to time the British authorities issue press leaks or official statements intended to counter reports that Sergei and Yulia Skripal are in prison, or that Sergei may have died since he was last heard on a telephone call to his mother’s home on June 26, 2019.

Left to right at her Kremlin credentials presentation, February 5, 2020:  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (obscured); Ambassador Deborah Bronnert; President Vladimir Putin. Source: http://en.kremlin.ru/

Last month, the British Ambassador in Moscow, Deborah Bronnert, told Kommersant: “Of course they are alive. I can’t tell you where they are, because we respect the right of people to make their own decisions. Both the government and the police will always be guided by the wishes of individuals.”  Bronnert refused to answer a question about whether the Skripals remain in the UK.

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