Washington A suspected Russian intelligence officer arrested last year after allegedly attempting to infiltrate the International Criminal Court was in the US gathering intelligence on US foreign policy before his cover was blown, according to court documents filed Friday.
Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, who lived under the alias Victor Muller Ferreira, was charged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for acting as an illegal agent of a Russian intelligence agency while attending graduate school in Washington for two years. He also faces several fraud charges.
Cherkasov has been detained in Brazil for fraud since his arrest last April. Russia has tried to extradite him, claiming he is wanted in Russia for drug trafficking. The FBI suspects Russia is using the narcotics allegations as a cover to bring its spy home.
The indictment filed Friday reveals more details about Cherkasov’s life undercover, from his time spent creating a fake identity in Brazil more than a decade ago to applying for jobs in the US, including some that require a security clearance was required.
In 2010, years before his arrest, Cherkasov assumed his new identity in Brazil after obtaining a fraudulent birth certificate, according to court documents. From there he created a fictional childhood.
His allegedly deceased mother was a Brazilian national and he spent a lot of time with his aunt, who spoke poor Portuguese and was happy to show him old family photos, according to a document detailing his cover found with him when he was arrested in Brazil. He attributed his aversion to fish—an unusual thing for a Brazilian—to the fact that he couldn’t stand the smell because he grew up near the port.
After years of living with his new identity, Cherkasov was accepted into graduate school in Washington and received a US visa. Court documents do not name the school, but CNN reported that he attended Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies.
“There is no better and more prestigious place for us,” he reportedly wrote to his handlers. “Now we’re in the big-boys league.”
The invasion of Ukraine
By the end of 2021, Cherkasov is said to have sent messages to his handlers about US policy regarding Russia’s possible invasion of Ukraine.
“I wanted to know what their advice to the administration is,” he wrote in a message after talking to his contacts at two think tanks.
The messages to the escorts included details of his conversations with experts and information gleaned from online forums or reports about Russia’s military buildup near the border with Ukraine and NATO, court documents said.
Cherkasov’s next stop was an internship at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“The ICC was of particular concern to Russia in March 2022 after it received numerous public references regarding human rights violations committed by Russia and its agents during the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine,” the indictment said.
But Cherkasov was refused entry when he arrived to start the internship. He was arrested days later in Brazil for fraud.
The indictment does not state what the Dutch intelligence service tipped off for Cherkasov’s alleged espionage. But it does state that FBI special agents personally met Cherkasov in 2022, though it is not specified in detail under what circumstances.
Following his arrest, Brazilian authorities gave the FBI classified communications equipment recovered from remote locations in Brazil that Cherkasov allegedly hid before leaving for The Hague.