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Accused Russian spy allegedly collected US information on Ukraine war before arrest

WASHINGTON — A suspected Russian intelligence officer who was arrested last year on charges of trying to infiltrate the International Criminal Court was gathering information on U.S. foreign policy before blowing his cover, according to court documents filed Friday.

Sergei Vladimirovich Cherkasov, who lived under the alias Victor Mueller Ferreira, was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for working as an illegal agent for a Russian intelligence service while attending graduate school in Washington for two years. He is also accused of multiple frauds.

Cherkasov has been held in Brazil on fraud charges since his arrest last April. Russia is trying to extradite him, claiming he is wanted in Russia for drug trafficking. The FBI suspects Russia is using drug charges as cover to bring its spies into the country.

Still image from a 2017 video showing Sergei Cherkasov at Moscow airport.

Still image from a 2017 video showing Sergei Cherkasov at Moscow airport.

US District Court for the District of Columbia court records

Becoming Brazilian

The criminal complaint filed Friday revealed more details about Cherkasov’s secret life, spending more than a decade in Brazil creating a false identity while applying for jobs in the United States, some of which required security clearances.

In 2010, years before his arrest, Cherkasov adopted his new identity in Brazil after obtaining a fraudulent birth certificate, according to court documents. From there he created an imaginary childhood.

His alleged late mother was a Brazilian citizen and he spent a lot of time with his aunt, who spoke Portuguese and liked to show him old family photos, according to a document detailing her cover that was found in her possession when she was arrested. In Brazil. He attributes his distaste for fish – something strange for a Brazilian – to not being able to stand the smell of it because he grew up near the port.

After living with his new identity for several years, Cherkasov enrolled in graduate school in Washington and received a US visa. Court documents do not name the school, but CNN reported that he attended the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“There is no better and more dignified place for us,” he allegedly wrote to his handlers. “Now we’re in the big-boys league.”

Ukraine invasion

By late 2021, Cherkasov was allegedly sending messages to his handlers about US policy regarding a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“I was on a mission to find out what their advice was to the administration,” he wrote in a message after speaking with his contacts at two think tanks.

Court documents said messages sent to handlers included details of his conversations with experts and information gleaned from online forums or reports about Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine’s border and NATO.

Cherkasov’s next stop was an internship at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

“The ICC was of particular interest to Russia in March 2022, when it received numerous public referrals of human rights violations committed by Russia and its agents during the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine,” the criminal complaint said.

But Cherkasov was denied entry as he was coming to start an internship. He was arrested in Brazil a few days later on charges of fraud.

The criminal complaint did not say what information Dutch intelligence obtained about Cherkasov’s alleged espionage. But it does say that FBI special agents met with Cherkasov in person in 2022, though it does not elaborate on the circumstances.

After his arrest, Brazilian authorities gave the FBI secret communications equipment recovered from a remote location in Brazil that Cherkasov allegedly hid before traveling to The Hague.

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