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France expels Russian spies ‘operating under diplomatic cover’

France has expelled six Russian spies it said were “operating under diplomatic cover” a week after ordering dozens more out of the country, the Foreign Ministry has announced.

France expels Russian spies 'operating under diplomatic cover'
(Photo: Claire Lebertre / AFP)

The agents have been declared “persona non grata” in France, following a lengthy investigation by the Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure (DGSI). 

The inquiry uncovered, “a clandestine operation conducted by Russian intelligence services,” on French soil, officials at Quai d’Orsay said.

The expulsions are the end result of a months-long probe, France Televisions reported, which began after a French person came forward to warn intelligence services that a Russian agent was trying to buy sensitive information. 

The activities of the six agents under surveillance, “proved to be contrary to our national interests,” which led to their expulsion, officials added. 

“In the absence of the Russian ambassador, the second in command was summoned to the Quai d’Orsay … to be informed of this decision,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin praised this operation of the DGSI on his Twitter account.

“Remarkable counter-espionage operation,” he wrote. “Bravo to the DGSI agents who have hindered a network of Russian clandestine agents who were working against our interests. The agents involved will have to leave the national territory. In the shadows, the DGSI is watching over our fundamental interests.”

Last Monday France expelled 35 Russian diplomats, whose activities, the government said, were “contrary” to French interests, adding that the sanction was part of “a European approach”.

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POLITICS

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.

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