Lawyers claim alleged IRA dissident was framed

AP News
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Posted: Sep 16, 2011 7:53 AM
Lawyers claim alleged IRA dissident was framed

The Lithuanian lawyer for an Irishman accused of trying to purchase and smuggle weaponry for the Real IRA told a court Friday that Michael Campbell was a victim of entrapment orchestrated by Britain's intelligence service.

Campbell, 39, was arrested in January 2008 after allegedly handing euro10,000 ($13,800) to an undercover Lithuanian agent posing as a weapons supplier.

The arrest was part of an international sting operation aimed at incapacitating the Real IRA, which is regarded as a terrorist organization opposing British rule in Northern Ireland. It has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in Northern Ireland, including the murder of two British soldiers in March.

In a closing argument before the Vilnius Regional Court, Campbell's lawyer, Inga Botyriene, said that Campbell was provoked into buying the weapons and explosives by undercover agents of Britain's top intelligence service.

"He was never involved in arms deals and would never go to Lithuania for such an affair if he had not been provoked by secret agents. The entire affair was created and orchestrated by Britain's MI5, which worked together with Lithuania's intelligence service," Botyriene said.

Botyriene also said Campbell has never been a member of the Real IRA.

Prosecutors have asked for a 16-year prison sentence for Campbell, who has spent the last three-and-a-half years in a cell with three other inmates in the Lukiskes prison in Vilnius.

Botyriene said in a statement that an MI5 agent "spent months talking my client into this affair in Lithuania, saying he would organize the entire deal and suggested presenting himself as a member of the Real IRA to Lithuanian arm dealers to look more serious."

She blamed the agent for persuading Campbell "to invest his personal savings into this affair, who escorted him to Lithuania and introduced to Lithuanian agents, posing as arms dealers."

Campbell, who turned 39 on Thursday, did not speak in court Friday.

"Conditions (in jail) are really bad, but I got used to this. You see, I am kept here for almost four years," Campbell told reporters as he sat handcuffed and flanked by armed policemen.

Campbell allegedly first came to Lithuania in August 2007 to inspect some of the weaponry for which he later allegedly paid euro6,000.

Prosecutor Gedgaudas Norkunas told a previous court session that, according to witness testimony, Campbell had asked how much explosive material was needed to blast a bullet-proof government car and said he intended to use explosive devices against people.

Michael Campbell is the brother of Liam Campbell, who is also wanted by Lithuanian prosecutors. Liam, 47, is allegedly one of the founders of the Real IRA and also one of the four paramilitary group's leaders found liable by a civil court for a 1998 bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland, that killed 29 people.

Botyriene insists that Michael Campbell's family background is irrelevant to the case and that he has never been charged with membership of an illegal organization.

"Just like any other ordinary Irishman he had books and magazines about this historic conflict between loyalists and Republicans. This is not illegal and does not prove he is a member of any illegal organization," she said.

The Real IRA broke with the Provisional IRA _ once the main armed group opposed to British rule in Northern Ireland _ in 1997 over the latter's support for a peace deal with London.

The next hearing in the Lithuanian trial is scheduled for Sept. 19, and a verdict is expected later this year.