FBI agent tells how he 'infiltrated Real IRA'

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The Independent Online

The eventful private life and turbulent business career of an FBI agent testifying against Michael McKevitt, an alleged leader of the Real IRA, were outlined in a court in Dublin yesterday.

Appearing in court for the first time, surrounded by Garda Special Branch detectives, David Rupert was described by counsel for the prosecution as a person of very considerable stature. Mr Rupert, who is well over six feet tall, had to squeeze himself into the witness box of the Special Criminal Court in Dublin.Giving evidence he spoke clearly, looking directly for much of the time at the three judges.

He sat about 15 feet away from Mr McKevitt, of Dundalk in Co Louth, who faces charges of membership of the Real IRA and of directing terrorism. He is the first person charged under new legislation brought in after the 1998 Omagh bombing.

In the public gallery Mr McKevitt's wife, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, a republican activist, sat close to about a dozen relatives of some of the 29 people killed at Omagh.

Mr Rupert, 51, said he had been married four times and had been involved in a range of business enterprises, one of which had gone into receivership. He said of one of his businesses: "The company kind of imploded - we ran out of money." In another incident one of his trucks was involved in an accident in Kentucky in which three children were killed, the father of one of whom was a local district attorney. "It was an absolute nightmare," he recalled. "The lawsuits started."

Mr Rupert said he worked in construction and the logging industry before becoming involved in trucking, at one stage running a business which operated 39 lorries and 110 trailers. One business failed but then another flourished. "We were pretty flush with cash," told the court.

He first visited Ireland in 1992 with a girlfriend, having just divorced his second wife. He went back later that year with another girlfriend, meeting republicans in Sligo and Donegal. He said: "She wanted me to go to Ireland. It wasn't really on my list of things to do - I wasn't Irish, it wasn't on my list of priorities." He said he had agreed to go after they had been "out for a day or two partying", adding: "At the time I drank a little." He said he stayed in a variety of places, ranging from bed-and-breakfast establishments to the exclusive Ashford Castle hotel during visits which lasted up to three weeks.

In 1994 he was visited at his office in the US by an FBI agent, Ed Buckley, after being photographed, he believed, by Garda Special Branch in the company of republican activists. Mr Buckley asked him to supply information on these individuals, he said. At first he had told him, "Let me get back to you", which he said was a favourite way of dismissing people, but a few weeks later "I said I'd take him up on it".

This was, he told the court, partly because the FBI was offering to finance his trips to Ireland and partly because "from my moral teachings I found it morally acceptable to do". Until that point, he said, he had been a tourist: "I liked to come here because it was relaxing. I came to unwind from stress - like I say, it was like going home, the way home was 40 years ago."

Security was tight, with a helicopter hovering overhead as separate convoys with police motorcycle escorts delivered Mr McKevitt and Mr Rupert to the courthouse.

The trial continues.