Mole in intelligence service betrayed Russian spies in US, says newspaper

 

THE 10 Russian spies arrested in the US in June were betrayed by a mole within the Russian foreign intelligence service, leading Russian business daily Kommersantreported yesterday.

The man alleged to have denounced the group is a Col Scherbakov.

Kommersantquoted a high-ranking Kremlin official as saying that authorities know who and where he is.

“And you can be in no doubt that someone has been sent to deal with him,” the official said.

The paper raised questions about how an agent with his rank was allowed to have a daughter living in the US.

It also claims his son, who used to work for the state anti-drugs service left Russia shortly before the arrests were made this summer.

The paper’s investigation revealed one of the spies, Juan Lazaro, is in fact Mikhail Vasenkov, one of Russia’s most experienced undercover agents.

Starting his career in Spain in the 1960s, he made a name for himself as a photographer in Latin America, gaining access to some of the continent’s key political figures. Kommersant reported he was secretly awarded a hero of the Soviet Union medal – the country’s highest distinction – in the 1980s.

Mr Vasenkov’s wife, a Peruvian journalist, was also arrested when American law enforcement officials raided the couple’s home in Yonkers. She has denied having any knowledge of her husband’s work or real identity.

Following the swap in July, Mr Vasenkov reportedly declined to stay in Russia. Kommersant claims that during interrogation by the FBI three of Mr Vasenkov’s ribs and his leg were broken.

The spy scandal broke in June, when 10 members of a spy ring were arrested on suspicion of espionage dating back 10 years.

Facing charges in US courts for money laundering and failing to register as agents of a foreign government, they were swapped for prisoners in Russia on charges of spying for the US and Britain in July. There were fears the scandal would stall improving relations between the US and Russia, but there have been no signs of this.

Anna Chapman, the member of the group to gain the most column inches since the arrests, has been in and out of the news in Russia since her return. She has posed for the Russian version of celebrity magazine Heat, appeared at the Baikonur space station and reportedly become an adviser to the president of a Moscow bank.

The news certainly reflects badly on the intelligence service, with Kommersantclaiming that at one stage Col Scherbakov managed to smuggle a top-secret dossier from Moscow into the US.

The only comfort for the Russian secret services is that one of the 10 Russian spies, known as Robert Metsos, managed to skip bail in Cyprus at the height of the scandal. He has subsequently disappeared without trace.