‘Say hello to your leprechauns’: Leo Varadkar targeted by Russian pranksters

Russian embassy denies involvement in hoax video call

The Russian embassy in Dublin has said it did not have anything to do with a prank call made to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in recent days.

It comes after Varadkar became the latest high profile politician to be targeted by Russian pranksters who arranged a meeting with him by pretending to be officials from the African Union.

Earlier this year Mr Varadkar took part in a virtual meeting believing he was speaking with a representative of the African Union Commission.

Instead he was speaking to two Russians, Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, who have subsequently published the call on right-wing video site Rumble.


In a statement to The Irish Times, a spokeswoman for the Russian embassy said: “We have learned of this ‘prank’ from the news reports. There is not a single reason to suggest that there is any official Russian involvement in it”.

In the call, Mr Varadkar said Ireland did not plan to change its policy of neutrality and that there were no plans to join Nato in the future.

He also discussed Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union and said the process could take a long time.

“We’ve accepted them as candidates to join the European Union, but those talks tend to take a long time because any country has to meet certain standards in terms of democracy, the justice system and the legal system and the economy before they can join.”

They also discussed Irish unity with Mr Varadkar saying he hoped it would happen in his lifetime although he said it would likely not be in his term of office.

Suspicions were raised when the hoaxers finished the call by asking Mr Varadkar to “say hello to your leprechauns”.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said some of the information released has been doctored and over-dubbed.

“Earlier this year the Taoiseach took part in a virtual meeting on the understanding that it was with a representative of the African Union Commission. The Taoiseach ended the call early due to suspicions about its nature and the manner in which it was conducted. It transpired to be a sophisticated deepfake.

“The material that has now been released has evidently been doctored and overdubbed in heavily-accented English, and does not represent what actually took place on the call.”

Following the call the Government notified the Irish embassy in Addis Ababa, the African Union Commission and the National Cyber Security Centre. “Inquiries are continuing,” the spokesman said.

“We are aware that the Taoiseach is not the only European leader targeted by a sophisticated deepfake in this manner.”

Other high profile politicians that have been targeted include Giorgia Meloni, Bernie Sanders, Angela Merkel, Boris Johnson and Justin Trudeau.

The two Russians, who are former YouTubers, moved to Rumble after their page was suspended.

According to a previously published profile in the Moscow Times, the two began pranking Russian celebrities before getting involved in domestic politics and eventually moving on to international politicians.

They have also pranked Elton John and in 2020, there were reports that they contacted Prince Harry, managing to secure his personal email and phone number. During a phone call, Prince Harry was said to criticise Donald Trump over climate change and describe his decision to end official royal duties as “not easy”.

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Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times