Extract from Hansard
23 Mar 2010 : Column 133
UK Passports (Use in Dubai Murder)
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): With your permission,
Mr. Speaker, I will report to the House on the investigation announced on 17 February by the Prime Minister into the use of
counterfeit British passports in the killing of Mr. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on 19 January. The UK is continuing to support
inquiries under way in a number of countries including in the United Arab Emirates itself. However, at the end of last week
the Serious Organised Crime Agency reported to the Home Secretary on its investigation. Its report has now been studied by
the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and me, and was presented to the Cabinet this morning.
In the past 24 hours I have spoken to the Foreign Ministers of the other countries whose
passports were involved. Their investigations are continuing. It would not be right to release the report in full, for legal
and other reasons, but it is right that the House knows a summary of the conclusions that SOCA has reached and the action
that we will be taking in response.
First, for the avoidance of any doubt, I should make it clear to the House that in the
case of each of the 12 passport holders to whom SOCA spoke, it found no evidence to suggest that any of those individuals
were anything other than wholly innocent victims of identify theft. Secondly-this should not need saying-I must add in the
strongest possible terms that the UK had absolutely no advance knowledge of what happened in Dubai nor any involvement whatever
in the killing.
SOCA conducted an extremely professional investigation. The Israeli authorities met
all the requests that SOCA made of them. SOCA was drawn to the conclusion that the passports used were copied from genuine
British passports when handed over for inspection to individuals linked to Israel, either in Israel or in other countries.
It found no link to any other country. Given that the operation was a very sophisticated one, in which high-quality forgeries
were made, the Government judge it highly likely that the forgeries were made by a state intelligence service. Taking that
together with other inquiries and the link to Israel established by SOCA, we have concluded that there are compelling reasons
to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of British passports.
The Government take this matter extremely seriously. Such misuse of British passports
is intolerable. It presents a hazard to the safety of British nationals in the region. Also, it represents a profound disregard
for the sovereignty of the UK. The fact that that was done by a country that is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural,
business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury. No country or Government could stand by in such a situation.
Israel is a democratic country, with remarkable achievements to its name, in a dangerous
part of the world. That makes international co-operation even more important. Britain has worked and will continue to work
closely with Israel on a range of issues, notably the Iranian nuclear threat, but that co-operation must be based on transparency
and trust. The Government are therefore taking a number of steps, based on the evidence of what has occurred in this case,
to make clear their deep unhappiness at what has happened, and to seek to ensure that such an abuse does not happen again.
I met Foreign Minister Lieberman on 22 February. At that stage, our investigation was
only just starting. I told him then of our deep concern about the incident, and made clear my expectation that Israel would
co-operate with the investigation. I met Mr. Lieberman again in Brussels yesterday. I set out the findings of the SOCA report,
our intended actions, and our determination to ensure that this affair was never repeated. I handed over a letter seeking
a formal assurance from him that in the future the state of Israel would never be party to the misuse of British passports
in such a way.
Diplomatic work between Britain and Israel needs to be conducted according to the highest
standards of trust. The work of our embassy in Israel and the Israeli embassy in London is vital to the co-operation between
our countries. So is the strategic dialogue between our countries. Those ties are important, and we want them to continue.
However, I have asked for a member of the embassy of Israel to be withdrawn from the UK as a result of this affair, and that
is taking place.
Members will be concerned about the fate of the British passport holders involved. As
one of them said, to go to bed as a citizen and wake up as a wanted terrorist is shocking. We have provided consular assistance
for the 12 people whose identities and passports were misused. As part of that, we offered them all new biometric passports,
which are being rolled out to the whole British population and, being considerably more difficult to counterfeit, should give
them the confidence that they need that they can still travel safely on their British passports. Eleven of the 12 have so
far been issued with new biometric passports.
To alert other British nationals to the risk that their passports might be misused in
the same way, I am today amending our travel advice on Israel to make clear the potential risk, and to set out the steps that
people can take to minimise that risk.
The middle east is not a place for woolly or wishful thinking. The Israeli people crave
and deserve legitimacy and security. The United Kingdom will not compromise its support for that, but the actions in this
case are completely unacceptable, and they must stop.
I commend the statement to the House.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement,
and for setting out the measures that are to be taken. Let me say at the outset that the Opposition agree with them. We should
all regret having to take such measures against a country that is a friend of Britain and with whose diplomats we enjoy good
relations, but we cannot permit cloning of, interference with or misuse of British passports by another state. If the Foreign
Secretary is truly satisfied, on the basis of all the evidence he has seen, that that has happened in this case, it is right
for Britain to take measures both to rectify the situation and to show that it is unacceptable to us.
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that there was a similar case in 1987, when it was discovered
that Israel had forged British passports for intelligence operations? On that occasion, the then Israeli Foreign Minister,
Shimon Peres, assured the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, that it would not
happen again. It seems that those assurances have not been upheld.
On the results of the investigation, we welcome the fact that Israel co-operated with
the Serious Organised Crime Agency in its inquiries. The Foreign Secretary said that he had spoken to the Foreign Ministers
of the other countries whose passports were allegedly involved. Can he tell us anything about their own investigations? Can
he tell us when he expects those investigations to be concluded, and whether he expects any of those other countries to take
similar action in parallel with the United Kingdom?
On the need to prevent this from happening again, the Foreign Secretary will know that
as soon as the use of British passports was uncovered last month, we argued that the Government should seek a specific assurance
that Israel would never sanction the misuse of British passports in any future operation. We therefore welcome the fact that
the Foreign Secretary has now formally requested such an assurance from his Israeli counterpart. Will he make it clear, however,
that it is not just a question of an assurance that no future counterfeiting will take place, but a question of an assurance
that there will be no further use of any British passports that may already have been copied? That last assurance will be
of particular concern to British travellers who may fear that other versions of their passports are in circulation.
Did the Foreign Secretary receive any indication from the Israeli Foreign Minister that
such assurances could or would be given, and will he intend, if they are received, to change the Foreign Office travel advice
relating to Israel accordingly?
The Foreign Secretary said that the biometric passports introduced four years ago are
more difficult to counterfeit. Does he consider these new passports to be as invulnerable to counterfeiting as it is possible
to make them, or will the Government review whether any other steps are needed to protect the integrity of British passports?
Is there any suggestion that British passports are more vulnerable than those of other countries, including other EU countries?
Finally, on the effect of this on relations with the United Arab Emirates, can the Foreign
Secretary say any more about what assistance SOCA and other British authorities have provided to the Dubai authorities at
their request and whether this is continuing? Has he had any indication from the UAE Government that more stringent rules
will be applied to the issuing of visas to British citizens visiting or resident the country?
There are many issues on which Britain and Israel quite rightly work closely together:
a two-state solution to the middle east peace process, diplomatic action over Iran's nuclear programme and the expansion of
trade between our countries to the benefit of all our citizens. But such relations and co-operation must be able to take place
in an atmosphere of mutual trust, and it is necessary for that trust to be reaffirmed so that relations can be as productive
as they should be. We therefore think that the measures taken by the Government are right and that the Israeli Foreign Minister,
as he considers the Foreign Secretary's letter, should know that it comes with united support across this House.