Bevan Hurley

Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

Top spy escapes a conviction

Former KGB man is let off drink-drive charge - so he can travel the world for his job.

Alexander Kouzminov blew the whistle on biological espionage with this book, published in 2005.
Alexander Kouzminov blew the whistle on biological espionage with this book, published in 2005.

A former KGB bioterrorism expert who tested more than twice the legal drink-drive limit has been let off a conviction.

Alexander Kouzminov, 57, had his conviction overturned after his lawyer Stuart Blake argued he would lose the right to travel overseas as a consultant for several foreign intelligence agencies.

Anti drink-drive campaigners say the decision to overturn his conviction sends the wrong message to anyone tempted to get behind the wheel while intoxicated.

Kouzminov was noticed driving erratically on Auckland's Parnell Rd in May 2012 and recorded a breath alcohol reading of 956mcg of alcohol per litre of breath - more than twice the 400 limit.

Kouzminov claimed he thought he was being followed and tried to use counter-surveillance techniques learned while working for the Russian intelligence services.

He was convicted of drink driving at a hearing in November 2012 by community magistrate Joanna Sihamu.

But Judge David Burns at the Auckland District Court overturned the conviction last month after he heard Kouzminov would lose his job as chief executive of a water research facility at Waiwera.

Details of Kouzminov's links to foreign crimefighting and intelligence agencies also emerged during the appeal.

The court heard Kouzminov is a member of a reportedly secret nuclear biological and chemical warfare society based in Canada and has a high-level security clearance.

Before arriving in New Zealand with his wife and two children in 1994, Kouzminov reportedly worked for a top secret cell within the KGB known as "Directorate S".

It developed biological weapons for terrorist and sabotage acts against the West during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Kouzminov's presence in New Zealand was revealed in 2005, when his book Biological Espionage was published, which blew the whistle on the shadowy biological cell.

Blake, a specialist in drink-drive cases, told the court it would be a "tragic loss to the global community" for his client to be prevented from continuing his work.

Kouzminov is also chief executive of the Robert Graham Institute, part of the Waiwera Group owned by fellow Russian Mikhail Khimich.

Colleagues swore affidavits, stating Kouzminov would lose his job as he would be unable to travel at short notice to countries with strict entry laws such as Canada.

Judge Burns said Kouzminov's breath alcohol reading was "very high" but said the "spectacular fall from grace" of losing his work would be too high a price to pay.

He cited Kouzminov's distinguished academic and business career since arriving in New Zealand and that he had no previous criminal history.

Students Against Drink Driving chief executive Anna Braidwood said someone could easily have been killed or injured by Kouzminov's actions.

"I think he's got off very lightly.

"We need to send a really clear message. Every time someone gets behind the wheel intoxicated, they are putting their own life and others' lives, at risk."

Kouzminov chose to pay $850 to the Cancer Society after having his original fine rescinded.

Ministry of Justice figures show around 50 drivers a year are let off drink-drive convictions.

- Herald on Sunday

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