Dundalk republican Liam Campbell, extradited to Lithuania earlier this year, is back in Ireland after a court there terminated the criminal case against him. It is likely the final chapter in a 12-year saga of politically motivated state harassment directed against the prominent republican.
Despite never having been to the Baltic state, Mr Campbell was controversially extradited there in May to face arms charges related to an MI5 ‘sting’ dating from 2004 involving his brother. But he returned home last month, with permission to do so, after a court in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius ruled the statute of limitations on the charges had expired four years ago.
In 2011, Liam Campbell’s brother Michael was found guilty of arms charges by a Lithuanian court in connection with the MI5 ‘sting’. He was sentenced to 12 years behind bars but the conviction was overturned on appeal in 2013 after a judge accepted he had been entrapped by undercover agents.
Following Mr Campbell’s arrest in May 2009 on a European Arrest Warrant in relation to the charges, he spent four years in Maghaberry Prison in the North before being released after a court in Belfast Court refused to approve his extradition, saying he could be exposed to inhuman and degrading conditions while in prison in Lithuania.
But he was arrested again in his home town Dundalk, south of the border, three years later, on foot of a second European Arrest Warrant. It was the third attempt overall by Lithuania to seek his surrender. Mr Campbell was forced to resumed his legal battles to prevent his extradition, which was controversially allowed to go ahead by the Supreme Court in Dublin in May.
He finally appeared before a court in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in August. At the hearing, his defence attorney Inga Botyriene pointed out that legislation had been enacted in 2013 which categorised the crimes he was accused of as ‘serious’ and not ‘very serious’. As a result, the statute of limitations was 10 years and the charges had in fact expired in January 2018.
In a ruling delivered last month, the Vilnius District Court agreed with the defence submissions and terminated the criminal case against Mr Campbell.
The decision is being appealed by prosecutors to the Vilnius Court of Appeal, but Mr Campbell’s supporters expressed their confidence that his ordeal is now finally over.
There was also anger at the ordeal that the Dundalk man had been put through.
The Ireland Anti-Internment Campaign welcomed the news and said Campbell had been subjected to more than a decade of politically motivated harassment.
“Accusing Republicans of spurious charges and condemning them to long drawn-out battles to resist their repression, whether in jail without bail or at partial liberty under restrictions is yet another means of the State removing activists from the street,” they said.
“We wish Liam Cambell a more peaceful and less stressful time at home with his friends and family.”
Republican Sinn Féin condemned the 26-County state for allowing his extradition to go ahead in the first place, which they said was “a blatant abuse” of his human rights.
“Even the British State refused to extradite him to Lithuania,” they said.
The IRSP said they were “delighted and relieved” at the news that Mr Campbell has been returned to Ireland “following the sham legal pursuit, arrest and extradition which saw him pursued at the behest of MI5 spooks for over a decade.”
They described Mr Campbell as “a lifelong patriot and a working man. His swift return is evidence that there was no evidence to convict him and that the 13 year long pursuit was no more than an exercise in disruption.”
They added: “Ireland has had enough of MI5’s antics. The Irish people are tired of those who tolerate the lead role which MI5 plays in Policing in the north and we condemn those who turn a blind eye to this fact.
“The days of British MI5 Agents scurrying around Ireland to record the thoughts of Irishmen to put them away must now be consigned to the past.”