Michael Campbell sentenced to 12 years after MI5 sting operation

After a two year trial in Lithuania, suspected Real IRA member Michael Campbell, 39, from County Louth, has been found guilty of supporting a terrorist group, illegal possession of weapons and attempted weapons smuggling and has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.  He was arrested in Lithuania in January 2008 as a result of an MI5 sting operation, working alongside Lithuanian authorities, against republican terrorist groups.  From the Guardian report

Michael Campbell was jailed for 12 years by a judge in Lithuania who had seen secretly-recorded videos of the 39-year-old negotiating to buy weapons unaware that he had been set up by the UK intelligence agency, working alongside Lithuanian authorities.

The court was told Campbell paid up to €10,000 (£8,700) for the cache, which included rocket-propelled grenades, detonators, a high-powered sniper rifle and 12kg of Russian-made explosives.

He thought he was buying the shipment from a Lithuanian arms dealer, but the episode was a sting set up by undercover MI5 and Lithuanian agents in an operation that had been going on for four years.

The Guardian has a detailed account of the operation.

The court was told that Jardine’s MI5 handlers repeatedly asked him if he wanted to pull out of the operation, but he insisted he wanted to continue. In talks with Liam Campbell, Jardine said that he would help them get back in touch with Tomas, but that they had to negotiate the deal themselves. It was at this point that Campbell assigned his brother Michael to the task, the court heard.

The prosecution claimed that on 29 August 2007, McGreevy, Michael Campbell and a third man, Brendan McGuigan, travelled to Lithuania with Jardine and met Tomas at a lodge in the countryside – the court was not told where.

They were shown an array of weapons, but not the ones wanted by the Real IRA.

The following day, Michael Campbell and McGuigan were introduced to a second arms dealer, whom they nicknamed Rambo.

He too was a member of the VSD [Lithuanian state security department], playing the role of an arms dealer who could give them the weapons on their wishlist.

“Rambo” let them inspect and fire some of them – the scenes were caught on film by a covert surveillance team.

And the paper has some of the video and audio transcripts.

Also from the Guardian report

In his defence, Michael Campbell, from Dundalk, Co Louth, insisted he was not a member of the Real IRA and said he had been entrapped by British, Irish and Lithuanian intelligence agencies who had initiated the arms deal.

He admitted being in Lithuania to buy weapons, but said they were not intended for use by terrorists. He pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted arms smuggling, supporting a terrorist group and illegal possession of weapons.

His lawyer, Ingrida Botyriene, said: “He would never be involved in arms deals and would never go to Lithuania for such an affair if he had not been provoked by secret agents.”

As others have discovered, that’s not a reliable defence.

The BBC report adds

The Lithuanian authorities are trying to extradite Liam Campbell from Belfast, along with Brendan McGuigan, 30, from Omeath in the Republic of Ireland.

They’ve been trying for some time.  And, in the meantime, Liam Campbell has been among those appealing against being found liable for the 1998 Omagh bombing in a civil ruling delivered in June 2009.

But with the conviction of Michael Campbell secured, the Lithuanian extradition attempt looks like progressing soon.

[Chief prosecutor of the Organised Crime and Corruption Investigations Department of the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s Office] Mr Mikelionis said authorities in Vilnius were still awaiting the extradition of Campbell’s brother and McGuigan, who are both wanted for questioning in relation to the arms smuggling operation.

Campbell, a farmer from Upper Faughart, Co Louth, has been in custody in Northern Ireland since May 2009 when he was detained on foot after crossing the border. His case is due to by mentioned in the Laganside Courts Complex in Belfast on November 18.

An extradition hearing against McGuigan, of Omeath, Co Louth, is expected to be heard in Dublin’s High Court next week.

Adds UTV report