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Accused Russian ‘sex spy’ did not engage in espionage, refugee board rules

Elena Crenna, a Russian-born U.S. citizen, was accused by Canada of engaging in espionage, but the Immigration and Refugee Board has dismissed the allegations.
Elena Crenna, a Russian-born U.S. citizen, was accused by Canada of engaging in espionage, but the Immigration and Refugee Board has dismissed the allegations. David Crenna / Submitted

The Immigration and Refugee Board has shot down the government’s case against an Ottawa woman whom Canadian officials had accused of being a “sex spy” for Russian intelligence.

In its ruling, the IRB wrote that while Elena Crenna had provided information about a Canadian project to Russia’s FSB Federal Security Service, her conduct did not amount to espionage.

“The minister advances a theory that, between 1994 and 1996, Mrs. Crenna was being used as a ‘sex-spy’ by the FSB, but this theory is not substantiated by the facts or any credible evidence,” the IRB wrote.

Russian-born Elena Crenna with her Canadian husband David Crenna, on Parliament Hill.
Russian-born Elena Crenna with her Canadian husband David Crenna, on Parliament Hill. Handout

Her husband, David Crenna, said the couple was pleased with the ruling but they had been informed the government intended to appeal the decision.

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The decision revolved partly around what constitutes espionage contrary to the interests of Canada, which the IRB interpreted as involving gathering information in secrecy.

A Russian-born United States citizen, Crenna married her Canadian husband, a former federal government policy advisor, in 2012. The following year, he sponsored her to immigrate to Canada.

READ MORE: Ex-spy’s daughter calls recovery from poisoning ‘slow and extremely painful’

But public safety officials claimed she was inadmissible to Canada on the grounds that, in the 1990s, she had engaged in espionage contrary to Canada’s interests.

Then known as Elena Filatova, Crenna was hired by her now-husband in 1994 to work as a translator on a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation project in Tver, a city northwest of Moscow.

Soon after, she was approached by Aleksander Dyomin, an agent in Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB, who asked her questions about the project and its officers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulates veterans of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Moscow, 28 May 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulates veterans of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Moscow, 28 May 2018. Michael Klimentyev via EPA

In all, he contacted her “five or six times” with questions about discussions related to the project. “She would relate the information she could recall,” the IRB wrote in its decision, which followed hearings in Montreal in January and March.

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Crenna testified that she was never paid, although she said the FSB agent brought her flowers and candy, and she had asked him to use his connections to get a phone line installed in her apartment.

She and her now-husband lost touch in 1996 but began corresponding a decade ago and have since moved to Ottawa.

READ MORE: Toronto-born son of Russian spies fights for Canadian citizenship

During the proceedings, Canadian immigration officials described the FSB’s use of women to intiate a “romantic relationship with a target in order to obtain intelligence information or blackmail that individual into collaborating with the FSB.”

But Crenna denied she was a “sex spy” and the IRB said the government had not demonstrated she had engaged in espionage.

The IRB said Crenna was not “directly employed in the covert gathering of information.” Neither was the information she passed to the FSB agent contrary to Canada’s interests.

Elena Crenna with her sons, 1995.
Elena Crenna with her sons, 1995. Handout

“It was not proven that the FSB officer gave her instructions in regards to collecting specific information from specific individuals or about specific individuals,” the IRB wrote.

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“What was demonstrated was that the officer contacted Mrs. Crenna sporadically over a period of two years and asked her what was going on with the project. He always initiated contact, never her.

“There was not a structured reporting method in place. Mrs. Crenna essentially answered the officer’s questions on the occasions where he contacted her. She testified that she never recorded or noted information with the intent of relaying it to the FSB.”

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

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