| Real IRA Chief Trial: Key Witness Demanded 2m Dollars
PA 10/09/02 12:49
Copyright 2002 PA News
By Chris Parkin, PA News
The man set to provide the main evidence against terrorism- accused Michael McKevitt - the alleged head of the Real IRA group that bombed Omagh, Co Tyrone - was today claimed to have demanded two million dollars to relay information on suspects to the security authorities.
US citizen David Rupert, who became a friend of McKevitt and a number of other senior hardline Irish Republican leaders and went to meetings of their organisation's ruling Army council in the 1990s, was said in Dublin's anti-terrorist Special Criminal Court to have asked for the money ( 1.6M) to be paid over a 15-year period.
McKevitt's defence counsel, Hugh Hartnett, made the charge as he outlined sworn affidavits from British and US security and other officials, provided by the prosecution for his client's trial, due to get under way early next year.
McKevitt, 51, from Dundalk, Co Louth, is the first person to be charged with directing terrorism under the terms of legislation introduced by the Dublin government after the 1998 Omagh outrage, when 29 people died and more than 200 were injured. He has also been accused of being a member of an illegal organisation.
Yesterday's opening of a preliminary hearing over documents in the case heard from prosecutor George Birmingham of a series of meetings Mr Rupert- who was recruited to pass on information on behalf of both the United States's Federal Bureau of Investigation and the British intelligence services - had attended together with McKevitt and other hard-line Irish Republican movement members of a period of years.
At one such meeting, Mr McKevitt was alleged to have said that the Omagh attack was a joint operation involving both the Real IRA and fellow dissidents in the Continuity IRA.
On other occasions he talked of an American who "if you wanted to have Tony Blair assassinated, is your man," spoke about an unspecified incident that would "overshadow Omagh," and referred to terrorist incidents in Northern Ireland and a bombing in Hammersmith, west London.
Mr Birmingham told the three-judge no-jury court that Mr Rupert had first gone to Ireland in the early 1990s, together with a political activist girlfriend from Florida, who had a strong interest in Irish affairs.
He later agreed to collect and pass on information, firstly for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States, and later for British intelligence.
Mr Hartnett made it clear that major questions would be raised over the credibility of Mr Rupert, and pointed to investigations said to have been made against him in America.
He also referred to payments that may have been made in return forintelligence and highlighted evidence that Mr Rupert wanted to be be paid two million dollars over 15 years to testify.
He added the claim that Mr Rupert had been described by a New York police officer as "an extremely street-smart criminal, who let others take the risks and would do anything for money."
Mr Hartnett said there were signs that Mr Rupert had been suspected of smuggling in the United States,and asked "Was a deal done.?"
Mr Hartnett was told by Sir Ivor Roberts, the British ambassador to Ireland, that certain papers relating to the McKevitt case could not be handed to the defence "in essence because of the desire to avoid putting lives at risk and prevent the undermining of efforts to prevent and disrupt terrorism."
He said he had read several hundred of the 2,300 pages of documentation given to him by the British security services, who also advised him, and that had amounted to a "wide representative section." It was, he added,a reasonable inference that the documents had come from a file.
Sir Ivor also said he understood that the defence line in the case against McKevitt was to seek to undermine the credibility of a witness .
In response to prosecutor George Birmingham, the ambassador said he knew the importance in the Irish legal system of an accused person obtaining a fair trial and that was why the British government had made the documents available.
Charles Fraham, section chief at the FBI's counter terrorism division in Washington, claimed privilege over certain documentation relating to the case "for the national security of the United States" and to protect thesafety of a number of people, among them David Rupert.
A second FBI officer, James Krupowski, based in Chicago, said there had been "no real record" of criminal activity on the part of Mr Rupert.
The preliminary hearing continues tomorrow.
BACK to Rupert Payments by FBI/MI5