Poland deports Russian defector who claimed to be former spycatcher

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Poland has deported a Russian former spycatcher who defected to the west, accusing him of falsely pledging to co-operate and share evidence of war crimes in Ukraine.

Emran Navruzbekov, who claims to be a former counter-intelligence officer in the FSB, Russia’s main security agency, was deported on Tuesday after Polish authorities determined he had lied about his background and reasons for entering the country.

The deportation of an ostensible Russian dissident who claimed to have valuable information against president Vladimir Putin is a highly unusual step for Poland, which is one of Moscow’s most ardent critics in the west.

Navruzbekov’s wife and lawyer say he faces torture, detention and reprisals against his family members in his native Dagestan for trying to defect.

Karinna Moskalenko, a prominent Russian human rights lawyer who is helping to represent Navruzbekov, said: “He’s one of the most important witnesses. We do not have a lot of people from the law enforcement bodies, but this person has a lot of information. When he escaped from the country he brought it with him.”

But Polish intelligence services said on their website that Navruzbekov’s story “turned out to be inconsistent, in many places also untrue or unverifiable”. It described him as “a person whose intentions and testimonies are unreliable and raise real doubts about the reason for his presence in Poland”.

On May 17, police detained Navruzbekov, who was living in a refugee camp in central Poland. They held him on suspicion of breaking rules governing the camp, and accused him of resisting arrest. He was moved to a deportation centre in Przemyśl on the border with Ukraine.

Navruzbekov’s lawyers thought he had until August to contest his deportation. But authorities then escorted him from the camp in the early hours of Tuesday morning, drove him to Poland’s border with Russia’s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, and deported him before the European Court of Human Rights could hear an emergency appeal.

“He is already in the hands of the Russians. There is no way to help him. It’s too late,” his wife Irada Navruzbekova told the Financial Times. “He worked there. I know how it is. They must be beating him, or they will send him to fight in Ukraine.”

Navruzbekov first entered Poland through Belarus in 2017. He unsuccessfully applied for asylum but was given leave to remain in the country pending his appeal. But his deportation this week was coupled with a 10-year ban from entering Poland and the Schengen area, according to a spokesperson for the Polish border guards.

Last December, he made his first public comments in a YouTube interview with Vladimir Osechkin, an exiled activist who has helped several Russian soldiers and security services officers defect to Europe since Putin ordered the full-scale invasion last year.

Navruzbekov told Osechkin he had decided to defect after being asked to travel to Turkey and surveil opposition activists and exiles from the North Caucasus, a war-torn, mostly Muslim region including his native Dagestan and neighbouring Chechnya.

He said the FSB carried out “controlled terrorist attacks” and extrajudicial killings in the region, as well as fabricating evidence against locals, some of whom were tortured, for refusing to become informants.

He claimed his relatives had been detained in Dagestan as reprisal for him speaking out. “Of course, I am afraid. I know how they work. In any case, I will be killed,” he told CNN in January in an interview for a story highlighting Osechkin’s work with defectors.

Later, however, Osechkin — who fled from Russia to France in 2015 — said he began to doubt Navruzbekov’s story after receiving a series of bizarre and contradictory messages from Navruzbekov, seen by the FT.

They included claims that he had met unspecified intelligence services in multiple other European countries, and apparent covert surveillance by Navruzbekov of Polish border guards.

Osechkin said Navruzbekov had told him that he was to be deported from Poland in February, then began sending Osechkin what he claimed was part of a trove of 9,000 secret documents he wanted to offer to prosecutors investigating Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

The two men then fell out, with each accusing the other of working for the FSB. Osechkin denies being an FSB agent.

Navruzbekov’s wife Irada said Osechkin’s claims about her husband were “all not true” and denied he had met with secret service officials in other countries, claiming the family had travelled abroad to seek asylum and receive medical treatment.

Osechkin said he concluded Navruzbekov’s files — which included intercepts of secret communications between US intelligence and Ukraine as well as apparent evidence that Russia had deeply penetrated Ukraine’s security services — did not point to Russian wrongdoing and might instead be aimed at damaging relations between Washington and Kyiv.

“It’s a real detective thriller,” he said. “We spent a great effort for several months trying to work this out, and we didn’t get to the bottom of it.”

The Polish statement said Navruzbekov’s stories “look like an attempt to prove himself to the Polish side” and determined that “his continued presence in Poland posed threats to the Republic of Poland”.

Moskalenko declined to comment on the Polish accusations, but said they “don’t explain the haste with which the authorities handed over Emran to a country where his life was in danger”.

“They can extradite him to the North or the South Pole if they want, just not to Russia. That’s condemning him to a certain death,” Moskalenko said.

Additional reporting by Raphael Minder and Barbara Erling in Warsaw

Source: Financial Times

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