Lithuania Real IRA arms trial picks up pace

14th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

An Irishman charged with plotting to smuggle arms from Lithuania to the Real IRA made his first public court appearance in over a year Friday, after a string of closed-door hearings.

Appearing relaxed, Michael Campbell listened carefully to his interpreter as the judge, Arunas Kisielius, read from trial documents.

Campbell, 38, was arrested in January 2008 in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius as he met with a Lithuanian officer posing as an arms trafficker. His trial opened in August 2009 with a public hearing.

He rejects charges of attempted weapons smuggling, illegal firearms possession and seeking to aid a terrorist organisation, saying he was set up. He faces a 20-year sentence if convicted.

The judge imposed a black-out when each of 11 anonymous Lithuanian and British intelligence witnesses testified by audio link from a separate room.

According to a document read at Friday's hearing, Lithuanian and British intelligence exchanged information about the alleged plot by the Real Irish Republican Army from 2005.

Two years later, prosecutors claim, Campbell and an associate came to Lithuania.

"On September 30 (2007), Michael Campbell inspected the arms. He was staying in a country guesthouse, accompanied by Brendan McGuigan," prosecutor Gedgaudas Norkunas told reporters, referring to a man Lithuania has asked Ireland to extradite.

Campbell's legal team say the case is groundless and the trial flawed.

Lead attorney Ingrida Botyriene pointed to testimony in September which she said broke the rules.

"The witness did not appear to be alone," Botyriene told AFP. "At the end of the testimony, we could hear other voices. The judge found there were other individuals in the room. The witness could have been pressured."

Campbell is the brother of Liam Campbell, 47, one of four leaders of the Real IRA found liable by a civil court for the August 1998 bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland, which killed 29 people.

Liam Campbell is wanted in the Lithuania case. Detained in May 2009 in Northern Ireland on a Lithuanian warrant, he is battling extradition.

The Real IRA broke with the Provisional IRA -- once the main armed group opposed to British rule in Northern Ireland -- in 1997 over the latter's support for a peace deal with London.

© 2011 AFP

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