KGB defection that spelt end for undercover agent

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The Independent Online
VICTOR OSHCHENKO did not appear at the courtroom drama which unfolded around the Michael Smith spy case. But the presence of the KGB defector dominated the nine-week trial.

Michael Smith's fate was sealed when Oshchenko, with his wife, Natalie, and their 14-year-old daughter, walked into the British embassy in Paris on 20 July last year seeking asylum.

The reasons for his defection are uncertain. It was rumoured in Moscow that he was to face arrest on corruption charges. Tass, the Russian news agency, claimed he realised he was suspected of being a double agent.

He told diplomats at the Russian embassy in Paris he was taking his family on a trip to the Loire. As a result, his absence went undetected for four days. By the time Oshchenko was noticed missing he was in Britain.

Attempts by the Russian consul in London, through the Foreign Office, to meet him were rejected. The debriefing of Colonel Victor Oshchenko, late of the SVR, as the Russian foreign intelligence service has retitled itself, was already under way.

One of the first names he volunteered to MI5 was Michael Smith's, a spy recruited by Oshchenko himself while serving at the Soviet embassy in London from 1972-79.

Oshchenko recruited Smith after learning he was an active member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Young Communist League. It was unusual for the Russians to recruit a member of the party, believing it to be completely penetrated by MI5, but they were anxious for industrial secrets to help keep pace with Western technology.

Oshchenko told MI5 that Smith was instructed to resign from the party before applying for jobs with defence companies. Smith was also told to marry to attract less attention and improve his chances of promotion.

Oshchenko's revelations were not confined to Britain. Information he provided enabled DST, the French counter-espionage agency, to break up a spy network which had penetrated France's nuclear arms establishment.

Francis Temperville, a physicist at France's Atomic Energy Board, is to face trial next year on treason charges after allegedly handing over highly confidential documents for pounds 240,000.