A Russian spy linked to the former double agent Sergei Skripal, poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury, England, was operating under a fake New Zealand identity, it has been revealed.

While 66-year-old Skripal and his daughter Yulia, 33, remain critically ill in hospital after being poisoned by what UK Prime Minister Theresa May said was a military-grade nerve agent, and that it was "highly likely" Russia was responsible, it's now alleged a Russian agent who stole a dead New Zealand child's name had known Skripal in Spain in the 1990s.

Sergei Cherepanov, a Russian agent undercover in Madrid, operated under the guise of David Frith – a New Zealand-born business consultant.

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Former Russian spy says he was poisoned in Auckland

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Spanish company records say his company, Frimor Consultores, was created on October 11, 1995.

Registration documents refer to Henry Frith, "born November 9, 1957… of New Zealand nationality", and being holder of a valid Spanish work permit.

The company's corporate purpose states: "Promotion management and advice for companies as well as acquisition, exploitation and disposal of real estate".

Cherepanov's phony back story claimed he was born in Ecuador to an Ecuadorian mother and a New Zealand father, according to a 2016 exposé by Brussels-based European affairs weekly newspaper, Politico Europe.

It accounted for his slightly accented Spanish and perhaps helped excuse his frequent trips abroad.

But Cherepanov's fake history and background unravelled in 2010 thanks to the data leaked by the same man who unmasked Russian honeypot Anna Chapman in the US.

On June 28, 2010, "Frith" was approached by a British intelligence officer near his Madrid home.

The grave of New Zealand child Lawrence Henry Frith who died in the 1930s and whose identity is suspected to have been stolen by a Russian spy. Photo / Herald
The grave of New Zealand child Lawrence Henry Frith who died in the 1930s and whose identity is suspected to have been stolen by a Russian spy. Photo / Herald

"Have you got just a few minutes to chat with me?" the agent asked, according to a transcript of their recorded conversation provided by a European intelligence service to Politico.

As Frith feigned ignorance, the British spy impressed: "You see, I have your life in my hands."

Frith repeatedly insisted it was a case of mistaken identity. The British agent suggested he become a double agent, and offered a good life in London.

The next day, Cherepanov fled back to Moscow.

Herald searches for "Henry Frith" in New Zealand returns no matches.

But Births, Deaths and Marriages records show a Lawrence Henry Frith born on November 30, 1936 to Noel Henry Frith and Joyce Hislop Culley.

Lawrence Henry Frith died in Hamilton, Waikato in either March 1937 or March 1938.

Hamilton City Council cemetery records shows a Laurence [sic] Henry Firth dying on March 15, 1938 and being buried in Hamilton East cemetery the following day.

His grave, visited by the Herald today, shows says he died on March 20, 1937, "aged 15 months".

The youngster shares a grave site with his great-grandad William Stephen who passed away aged 72, on April 17, 1941.

Sergie Skripal making a purchase in the Bargain Stop Store in Salisbury a few days before he was poisoned. Photo / AP
Sergie Skripal making a purchase in the Bargain Stop Store in Salisbury a few days before he was poisoned. Photo / AP

Noel Frith died in 1979 and Joyce Frith four years earlier.

Politico reported a European intelligence source suggesting the Frith identity could have been picked from the cemetery by a Russian embassy employee in New Zealand.

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) says it has been aware of the "Frith" case for more than a decade.

A spokesman confirmed the passport was fraudulently acquired more than 20 years ago.

While he wouldn't comment further on the specific case, he added: "What we can say is the New Zealand passport is one of the most prized in the world so we regularly update its security features to keep them ahead of advances in fraud and counterfeit techniques. Passport issuance has been made significantly more robust since this historic case."

The DIA says it has an ongoing programme to detect and prevent anyone seeking to acquire New Zealand passports fraudulently, and to ensure that its processes and systems are at a "very high" standard.

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) refused to comment today.

A spokeswoman said the NZSIS has "a long-standing practice of not commenting on what may or may not be operational".

In 2004, Prime Minister Helen Clark angrily denounced Israel and imposed diplomatic sanctions on it after two suspected Mossad agents were jailed for six months for trying on false grounds to obtain a New Zealand passport.

The plot involved obtaining a passport in the name of unsuspecting Auckland tetraplegic with cerebral palsy who had not spoken in years.

A former Israeli agent living in New Zealand told the Herald in 2004 that the Mossad's interest in New Zealand was likely limited to passports.

Sergei Skripal speaks to his lawyer from behind bars seen on a screen of a monitor outside a courtroom in Moscow. Photo / AP
Sergei Skripal speaks to his lawyer from behind bars seen on a screen of a monitor outside a courtroom in Moscow. Photo / AP

He had no doubts that if the Mossad were interested in Kiwi passports they would prefer the real thing to a fake.

"They can fake them but here it is the real thing. You get a genuine New Zealand passport."

In 1991 Anvar Razzakovich Kadyrov was deported from New Zealand after he was caught trying to use the name of Wellington boy Philip James Couper who died, aged six, in 1966, to get a New Zealand passport and create a clean identity.

Former senior KGB agent Boris Karpichkov who took refuge in New Zealand in 2006 and 2007 after working as a double agent for the West in the 1990s says he was the victim of a poison attack in Auckland that made all his body hair fall out and caused him to lose 30kg.

He has revealed he was walking down Auckland's Queen St when someone threw powder in his face and he later became seriously unwell.