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Suspected Russian spy who worked for lawmaker wins battle to remain in Britain
LONDON (AP) ' A special immigration tribunal ruled Tuesday that a Russian former lawmaker's aide who was accused of being a spy can stay in Britain.
The tribunal concluded that Ekaterina Zatuliveter ' who had an affair with her boss, a British lawmaker ' was not a threat to national security despite government claims.
The British government can still pursue the case in a higher court, but no decision on whether to continue the attempt to deport has been made public.
The commission's 28-page ruling left open the small possibility that Zatuliveter might be a Russian agent.
"We cannot exclude the possibility that we have been gulled," the report from judge John Mitting states. "But, if we have been, it has been by a supremely competent and rigorously trained operative."
The three-person panel concluded this was highly unlikely based on her education and training.
The 26-year-old Russian woman was arrested in December on suspicion of using her job in the office of legislator Mike Hancock to pass information to Russian intelligence. Zatuliveter admitted she had a four-year affair with her boss, a Liberal Demcocrat who served on the sensitive Defense Committee, but said she was not a secret agent.
"I am very happy, incredible relief," Zatuliveter said. "My parents are ecstatic."
Her lawyer, Tess Gregory, said Zatuliveter was "delighted" with the decision and wants to put the episode behind her.
The lawyer was critical of the British government's pursuit of Zatuliveter, saying it the case "was built entirely on speculation, prejudice and conjecture."
Gregory said it should not taken 12 months of costly legal proceedings to reach the decision announced Tuesday. The government had put Zatuliveter in the Kafkaesque position of trying to prove she was not a spy, the lawyer said.
"Our Security Service is supposed to be responsible for protecting us against serious threats to national security," she said. "It is therefore extremely worrying that they have chosen to waste their time, at great public expense, needlessly and unfairly pursuing an innocent young woman."
In comments that might have made the fictional character James Bond cry, she said Britain's secret service fell far short of the FBI in counterespionage.
Zatuliveter smiled when the ruling was announced.
She has not been charged with spying but British authorities wanted to deport her as a threat to national security. Much of the evidence was heard in secret, so the details of the case against her have not been made public.
The Home Office released a statement that officials are "disappointed" by the ruling and that they stand by the decision to seek Zatuliveter's deportation.
"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," the statement said.
Hancock has stepped down from the Defense Committee but has not commented publicly on the allegations.