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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
Stalin 'ordered spy's execution'
Sydney Reilly
Sydney Reilly was feted as the Ace of Spies
One of Britain's master spies may have been executed on the orders of Joseph Stalin, secret files just made public have revealed.

Sydney Reilly - a naturalised Russian Jew, dubbed the Ace of Spies - was famous for his anti-Bolshevik exploits after the 1917 Revolution.

The Bolsheviks, in order to escape the possible demands by the English for his release, murdered him

MI5 files extract

He was recruited to work for the British secret intelligence service, MI6.

When he died in 1925 the Russians claimed a guard had shot him as he crossed the border with Finland.

But MI5 documents, made public on Thursday, suggest he was executed following Bolshevik interrogations that included mock executions.

According to Reilly's file, he was tricked by Stalin's secret police OGPU into returning to Russia to supposedly join an anti-Bolshevik organisation, the Trust.

In fact this was a front for OGPU.

Stalin's influence

The files, released by the Public Records Office, say Reilly was arrested several days after crossing the border with Finland into Russia.

Joseph Stalin
Did orders for the execution come from above?
The Trust wanted him released so as to not blow their cover but Stalin "energetically protested".

The dictator insisted they force Reilly to work for the Soviet Union "or once and for all get rid of a person dangerous to the OGPU".

The file about Reilly was apparently drawn up for British intelligence two years later by White Russian émigrés.

Mock executions

The report said: "Reilly would not consent to their proposals, the consequence of which was that he was several times brought out ostensibly to be shot and subsequently examination was resumed."

British intelligence officers found out about Reilly's arrest.

"The Bolsheviks, in order to escape the possible demands by the English for his release, murdered him when he was taken out for exercise, after first putting into practice their methods of torture," the report continued.


The story of Reilly's shooting by a border guard was a cover-up planted in the press by the Russians.

The file also showed he was distrusted by MI5, which described him as an "undesirable character".

In 1919, Colonel WH Courtenay wrote to the General Staff warning him about Reilly.

Among his concerns were that Reilly was believed to be in the pay of the Germans and that the old Russian authorities had denounced him more than once.

The MI5 file mentioned how Reilly had many wives.

A Special Branch informer told how Reilly's second wife, actress Pepita Bobadilla, went to the Russian Embassy, in Paris, following his death.

She caused a "considerable scuffle" as she attempted to get a visa for Russia to get proof of her husband's death so she could re-marry.

And she wrote a letter for the Russians confirming her husband had been "spying for the British Government".

The informer had said in his report that, with that letter "they hope to have a very good hold on the British Government for the exchange of any Russian spy they may catch."

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"Stalin personally ordered Reilly to be shot"
See also:

09 May 02 | UK
Wartime spy files revealed
01 Jan 01 | UK Confidential
Unlocking the secrets of government
30 Apr 02 | Europe
Stalin's spy stamps stir fears
17 May 00 | UK
The culture of secrecy
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