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Statement regarding investigations into the fraudulent use of passports

This morning, I briefed the Government on the outcome of the investigations conducted by the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Passport Service and by An Garda Síochána into the fraudulent use of Irish passports by persons suspected of involvement in the assassination of Mr. Mahmoud al Mabhouh in Dubai on 19 January last. You will be aware that these two investigations were initiated as soon as the Government first received official confirmation, following the press conference given by the Dubai Chief of Police on 15 February, that Irish passports, along with those of a number of other countries, had been fraudulently used by those responsible for the murder of Mr. Mabhouh.

I want to express my appreciation to both the Passport Service and to An Garda Síochána for their investigations, which have drawn on all available information, including that provided to us by the UAE Government and by the Dubai police through our Embassy in Abu Dhabi. The Garda investigation has also benefitted from the close cooperation extended by the British police as well as from other police services through Interpol.

I am making available a summary of the investigation carried out by the Passport Service which necessarily excludes details which might be useful to persons interested in forging Irish passports.

The investigation by the Passport Service Office has confirmed that the eight Irish passports used by suspects in the murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh were forgeries. In contrast to the UK and Australian cases, which involved identity theft in relation to nationals of both countries, those responsible for the forgery of the Irish passports sought to replicate potential valid Irish passport information, with six of the eight fake passports using the numbers of existing Irish passport holders, while the two remaining passports used numbers conforming to Irish passport number format, although valid passports carrying these numbers were never actually issued.

As I have stated from the outset, my priority throughout this affair has been to ensure the security of the innocent Irish citizens affected and to protect the integrity of the Irish passport. Senior officials from the Passport Office and members of the Garda investigating team have met with all of the citizens, or their legal guardian in the case of minors, who hold or have held passports with the numbers provided by the Dubai authorities. All the citizens concerned have been issued with new passports free of charge. This will, I am satisfied, enable these citizens to travel free from any suspicion relating the misuse of a forged passport carrying the same number as their own legitimate passport.

Turning to the central question of who was responsible for producing these forgeries, the balance of evidence uncovered in both investigations as well as the level of sophistication required in the manufacture of these forged passports clearly points to the involvement of a foreign state agency or a very well resourced criminal organisation with access to details of significant numbers of Irish passports.

The UK investigation into the use of its passports in the same incident reached the conclusion, as the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, informed the House of Commons last March, that the forgeries were most likely the work of a state intelligence service and that there were compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of British passports. A similar view was arrived at by the Australian authorities in their investigation, which concluded recently with the judgment that Israel had been clearly identified as responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of Australian passports. The Government has, of course, maintained very close contact and cooperation with the Governments of all those countries whose passports were fraudulently used in this affair and we were informed in advance by both the UK and Australia regarding the results of their investigations.

While our own investigations have discovered no additional evidence linking the Irish passports to Israel, the fact that the forged Irish passports were used by members of the same group who carried the forged British and Australian passports, leads us to the inescapable conclusion that an Israeli government agency was responsible for the misuse and, most likely, the manufacture of the forged Irish passports associated with the murder of Mr. Mabhouh.

I would recall that, I had a meeting on this subject with Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman last March at which I asked that he provide me with any information which he felt might help the Government in its investigation. Similar messages were conveyed through official channels. I have to report that efforts to enlist the assistance of the Israeli authorities in the investigation of this case have yielded no response and no denial of Israeli involvement.

The misuse of Irish passports by a State with, with which Ireland enjoys friendly, if sometimes frank, bilateral relations is clearly unacceptable and requires a firm response.

Accordingly, I have proposed, and the Government has agreed at today’s Cabinet meeting, that by way of protest at its unacceptable action, Israel be requested to withdraw a designated member of staff of its Embassy in Dublin. This demand has been conveyed to the Israeli Ambassador and I would expect it to be quickly acceded to.

In accordance with normal diplomatic practice, I do not propose to reveal either the name or function of the official whom the Israeli Government has been requested to withdraw. I want to state clearly that the official concerned is not accused or suspected of any particular wrongdoing. In being obliged to leave their post prematurely, the official concerned is a victim of the actions of the State they represent.

The Government has invested heavily in making the Irish passport the respected document which it is internationally and in improving the security of our system so that Irish citizens can travel in safety. Any actions which endanger our well earned reputation in this area require determined action to ensure there is no repetition. I believe that, by taking decisive action in this regard, the Government is conveying a clear message of protest at what has occurred and our firm expectation that it will not happen again.

I would also wish to put on record that the Government condemns the murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh. Many allegations have been made against Mr. Mabhouh which, if true, would categorise him as a committed terrorist. The Irish Government does not believe that States should fight terror with terror. As a matter of principle, Ireland opposes extra-judicial killings. We believe that States have a duty to operate according to the law and to respect that way of life that terrorists seek to destroy.

I very much want Ireland and Israel to enjoy productive bilateral relations. Even more, I want to see Israeli’s living in peace and prosperity in a State recognised by its neighbours. However, the Government and the vast majority of the Irish people disagree with certain policies pursued by the Israeli Government, particularly in its relations with the occupied Palestinian territories, and I will not hesitate to express criticism of such policies where I believe this is warranted and where the policies in question, such as the current blockade of Gaza, are inimical to the achievement of a viable two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a comprehensive overall settlement in the Middle East.

We will continue our dialogue and cooperation with a view to advancing these fundamental political objectives. Our Ambassadors and our Embassies play a vital role in this dialogue and provide a channel through which to express and manage our differences and to search for agreement. That is why I reject calls to respond to differences by closing down our missions or removing our Ambassadors.

The Irish Government wants a relationship with Israel which is characterised by mutual trust and respect. However, our investigations into the misuse of Irish passports have reached conclusions about the conduct of the Israeli authorities which are profoundly disturbing and which are seriously detrimental to the kind of relationship we would like to have with Israel. I hope that, by the action which I have announced today, both countries will eventually be able to move past this incident and that such unfriendly actions damaging to overall relations are not repeated.