Cat stirs fears of crime ties to visitor

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The Independent Online
The "extraordinary" tale of a very wealthy young businesswoman from Latvia, her Persian cat and the suspicious immigration officer, unfolded in London's High Court yesterday.

Vita Kokorevica was "unreasonably" refused entry to the UK after doubts were raised that she was a genuine business visitor, because she was travelling with her pet, named Dana, a judge heard.

Tom Croxford, appearing for the 22-year-old company director, asked Mr Justice Latham to quash an immigration officer's refusal to allow her to enter the country last September at Gatwick Airport. He said her obvious wealth and East European background seemed to make officials think she was linked to organised crime, and was rather like Blofeld, the cat-loving arch-villain of James Bond films.

But the judge, describing the case as extraordinary, said the official had not come to an unlawful decision, as Ms Kokorevica had failed to satisfy the authorities she was genuinely in the country on business.

"Business people don't usually come with cats. It is as simple as that," he said and rejected the application.

Mr Croxford described Ms Kokorevica as "a rich, young Eastern European travelling with a cat - nothing more". She was a company director of Vigo Stores (UK) Ltd, which rented and leased luxury cars, and her cat was her constant travelling companion. She earned a salary of up to pounds 140,000 a year.

She told immigration authorities she would be staying at Claridges Hotel in London, because the pounds 1.2m property she had just bought to stay in during business trips to the UK, was unfurnished.

When her cat, who had been travelling as hand luggage, was taken away because of the UK'squarantine laws, she became distressed.

Officials worried about her ostentatious wealth contacted the organised crime squad, after a luggage search revealed she had enormous receipts for gold and jewellery.

A solicitor Bernard Andonian, representing Ms Kokorevica, described Dana as "one of the world's best travelled cats" who had been to Russia, Switz- erland and other countries. But not, it seemed, to Britain.