Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Court frees Real IRA guns suspect

A Lithuanian police surveillance picture of Michael Campbell testing weapons (AP)

An Irish man jailed in Lithuania after being convicted of trying to buy weapons for the Real IRA has been freed by an appeal court.

Michael Campbell, who has been in prison since his 2008 arrest, smiled as police took off his handcuffs and freed him in court in the capital, Vilnius.

"I am very happy," Campbell, 41, said, adding that he planned to return to Ireland. "I will go as soon as possible."

Campbell, from Co. Louth and the younger brother of alleged Real IRA founder Liam Campbell, was arrested as part of an international sting operation that included undercover British agents as he tried to purchase guns and explosives in the Baltic state.

A lower court sentenced him to 12 years in prison in 2011.

The Vilnius Appeals Court said prosecutors failed to prove ties with the Real IRA and suggested that Campbell was the victim of entrapment.

"There was no direct evidence proving Campbell's ties with Real IRA. He was never arrested by British or Irish authorities for terrorism-linked activities," judge Viktoras Kazys said. "The prosecution did not provide enough evidence to deny statements that Campbell's actions were provoked by undercover MI5 agents."

Campbell's lawyer, Ingrida Botyriene, escorted him to the Irish Embassy after his release.

"A person cannot be sentenced for a crime committed by state officials," she said. "We will be discussing possibilities to demand compensation for my client."

Two years ago, a Lithuanian court found Campbell guilty of trying to buy weapons and explosives after a six-year sting operation - in a case that drew attention to a hardcore IRA splinter group's plans to spread terror to London.

According to Lithuanian prosecutors, video footage and intercepted communications showed that Campbell had paid about 6,000 euros for high-grade explosives, grenade launchers, detonators, AK-47s and a special assassin's rifle to Lithuanian agents posing as arms dealers.

In an audio recording, Campbell was heard discussing how easy it would be with the type of equipment on offer to plant a bomb in London and escape.

He was given prison sentences of five years for weapons possession, six years for attempting to smuggle weaponry and explosives, and 12 years for supporting a terrorist group.

However, the judge at that trial said the sentences on the weapons charges would be cancelled since no harm was caused and that Campbell did not have prior convictions for similar offences.

It was not clear if prosecutors can appeal the decision by the appeals court.

-AP

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