Saturday 23 September 2017

'Married couple' in US spy ring admit they're Russian

An artist's impression of, from left, Russian spy suspects Patricia Mills, Michael Zottoli, and Mikhail Semenko in court in the US yesterday. AP
An artist's impression of, from left, Russian spy suspects Patricia Mills, Michael Zottoli, and Mikhail Semenko in court in the US yesterday. AP

Kathleen Miller in Virginia

TWO more suspects in an alleged spy ring have admitted they are Russian citizens living in the US under false identities.

The confessions came as police in Cyprus confirmed last night that another man believed to be the ringleader of the group may have fled the island after being bailed.

The defendants known as Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills last night admitted to police after their arrest that their real names are Mikhail Kutzik and Natalia Pereverzeva.

The pair were arrested in the Washington DC suburb of Arlington, Virginia, where they have been living as a married couple with two young children.

Police also revealed that the couple had $100,000 (€79,654) in cash and phony passports and other identity documents stashed in safe deposit boxes.

Identity

The couple, along with a third defendant Mikhail Semenko, appeared in federal court in Virginia yesterday and the three suspects will remain in jail after waiving their right to a detention hearing.

They were among 11 arrested this week in a FBI swoop. Police revealed the information in a letter to the judge arguing for all three defendants to remain in jail.

In the letter, assistant US attorney Jason B Smith also said Mills asked a family friend who has been caring for their two children since their arrest to take them to Russia to Mills's sister and parents.

Semenko, who was in the US on a work visa, is not alleged to have used a false identity. But prosecutors said the FBI has searched his home and a second apartment that he recently leased and found computer equipment "of the type capable of being used for ... clandestine communications".

Meanwhile, in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia yesterday, Justice Minister Loucas Louca accepted that it was highly unlikely that Christopher Metsos (54) would be apprehended on the Mediterranean island because he believes that he is no longer there.

Metsos is wanted in the US on charges that he supplied money to the spy ring.

He disappeared on Wednesday after a Cypriot court freed him on bail, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said yesterday that it had no reason to believe Metsos was in Russia.

In Virginia, Zottoli, Mills and Semenko were charged with being foreign agents. Six other defendants have already appeared in court and one was granted bail.

According to court documents, Zottoli claims to be a US citizen, born in New York, and is married to Mills, a purported Canadian citizen.

The FBI said the two lived together over the years in a number of locations, including Seattle, before moving to Virginia last year.

According to the court documents, an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian agent met with Semenko last Saturday in Washington, just blocks from the White House. The agent gave Semenko a folded newspaper wrapped around an envelope containing $5,000 (€3,982) and directed him to drop it in an Arlington park.

The documents say there is video of Semenko making the delivery as instructed.

Regarding Zottoli, agents detailed several exchanges with other alleged co-conspirators in which he is accused of receiving thousands of dollars, laptops used to communicate with Russian officials and other items.

Irish Independent

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