Czech Government Orders Out Two Russian Embassy Staff Over Ricin Plot Hoax
By RFE/RL June 05, 2020
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis says his government has designated two staff members at the Russian Embassy in Prague as personae non gratae and ordered them to leave.
Speaking at a June 5 news conference in Prague along with Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek, Babis said that the move was taken as a result of the so-called ricin affair, which turned out to be a fake incident sparked by an "internal struggle" between embassy staff.
"One of them purposefully sent to the BIS fictional information about a planned attack on Czech politicians," the prime minister said, referring to the Czech intelligence service.
Neither Babis nor Petricek took questions from reporters during the news conference. They did not name the staff members in question.
The Russian Embassy called the expulsions of the diplomats an "unfriendly step" that shows Prague is not interested in normalizing already tense relations between the two countries.
The affair stems from Czech media reports that Andrei Konchakov, deputy director of the embassy's Russian Center for Science and Culture, brought ricin from Russia to Prague in mid-March that was meant to be used in a plot to poison Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib and two other senior municipal officials, Ondrej Kolar and Pavel Novotny.
Moscow at the time denied the reports as "fabrications."
The scandal broke out on April 26 when Respekt, a Czech investigative weekly, published a report quoting unnamed security sources as saying that a suspected Russian intelligence officer traveling on a diplomatic passport had arrived recently in Prague carrying the deadly toxin ricin as part of an alleged poisoning plot.
Czech media last month identified the suspected Russian intelligence operative as Andrei Konchakov.
The three Czech officials -- Kolar, Hrib, and Novotny -- were given around-the-clock police protection at the time.
All three have taken or supported actions that have angered the Kremlin, including the renaming of the square in front of the Russian Embassy after a slain former Kremlin critic and the removal of a statue of a Soviet-era general.
As possible payback, Moscow is suspected of having a role in a recent wave of cyberattacks in the Czech Republic.
Moscow, suspected in the 2018 poisoning in Britain of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent, has said the alleged poisoning plot against the three Czechs was part of a "disinformation campaign" aimed at discrediting Russia and threatened "serious consequences" to Czech-Russian relations.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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