The Netherlands claims a Russian spy was caught trying to infiltrate the ICC

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Dutch authorities made a surprise announcement on Thursday that they had denied entry to a Russian spy posing as a Brazilian national to infiltrate the International Criminal Court. Authorities speculated that the man was seeking access to information relating to ICC investigations into alleged Russian war crimes.

“He was sent back to Brazil on the first flight,” the Netherlands’ counterintelligence agency said of the events that unfolded in April.

But social media accounts linked to the alleged Russian intelligence officer also showed he had studied at top academic institutions in Europe and the United States, including the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, a place key study for future foreign policy elites. .

The FBI’s Washington Field Office said Thursday it could not confirm or deny whether there had been an investigation into the individual. The first public details of the plot came from the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service, known as the AIVD.

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The agency released a statement on Thursday outlining the extraordinary details of the case. He said a 33-year-old man claiming to be a Brazilian national named Viktor Muller Ferreira flew to the Netherlands from Brazil to start an internship at the ICC in The Hague, but his real name was Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov , and he was a 36 year old Russian intelligence officer.

Cherkasov, posing as Muller Ferreira, “used a well-constructed cover identity by which he concealed all his ties to Russia in general and the GRU in particular”, according to the agency, using the acronym of the Russian Intelligence Directorate. The agency released copies of a document detailing its elaborate cover identity.

The four-page document, apparently written by the spy himself in an effort to memorize the details of his cover story, included lengthy descriptions of a complicated family history and mundane details about rent in different cities, the teacher crush and a favorite trance music nightclub. in Brasília.

The original document was written in Portuguese and had notable grammatical errors. Dutch authorities redacted part of it to remove information that could identify people not involved in Cherkasov’s intelligence activities. “This was a long-term, multi-year GRU operation that cost a lot of time, energy and money,” the head of the Dutch intelligence agency, Erik Akerboom, told Reuters.

Jill Rosen, director of media relations at Johns Hopkins, said records show a man with a slightly different first name, Victor Muller Ferreira, enrolled in the School of Advanced International Studies in 2018 to pursue a master’s degree. .

The man majored in “American foreign policy,” Rosen said, and graduated in the spring of 2020 after two years of study in Washington. Social media accounts also showed that Cherkasov graduated from Trinity College Dublin before that.

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Dutch authorities informed the court of the operation, spokeswoman Sonia Robla said in an emailed statement. “The ICC takes these threats very seriously and will continue to work and cooperate with the Netherlands,” Robla said.

Cherkasov was due to begin an internship at the ICC, where Dutch intelligence said he may have sought access to information about investigations into alleged Russian war crimes committed in Ukraine this year and Georgia in 2008.

“Had the Intelligence Officer gained access as a trainee to the ICC, he could have been gathering intelligence there and researching (or recruiting) sources, and arranging for access to the ICC’s digital systems,” said the AIVD. said.

“He could also have influenced the criminal proceedings of the ICC,” the agency said, adding that he was “considered potentially very dangerous” for the security of the Netherlands and that he had been sent back to Brazil at the first opportunity.

Russia has a checkered history with the court. Moscow signed the 1998 Rome Statute which established the ICC but never ratified it. The ICC opened investigations into Russia’s 2008 invasion of South Ossetia in Georgia and later declared Russia an occupying force in Crimea after the 2014 invasion, prompting Moscow to withdraw its signature in protest .

Just days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan announced he would open an investigation into possible crimes against humanity and war crimes committed. during the conflict.

The charges against Cherkasov, who claimed to be a young student of human rights law and international affairs, shocked and surprised those who knew him. A person who said they knew the alleged Dublin spy said he was still processing the information. He added: “There were so many red flags.”

Johns Hopkins associate professor of international affairs and genocide expert Eugene Finkel wrote on Twitter that he had taught the man he believed to be Muller Ferreira and wrote him a letter of recommendation for the ICC internship. “Given my research objective, it made sense. I wrote him a letter. A strong one, in fact. Yes me. I wrote a reference letter for a GRU officer. I will never get over this fact,” Finkel wrote.

Timsit reported from London and Taylor from Washington.

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Post expires at 8:21am on Monday June 27th, 2022

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