Monday 20 January 2020

Russian spy ring suspect 'in confession to US agents'

Russian beauty Anna Chapman was among those arrested. Photo: AP
Russian beauty Anna Chapman was among those arrested. Photo: AP

Ian Simpson in New York

One of the suspects in an alleged spy ring has confessed to US federal agents that he worked for Russia's intelligence service, federal prosecutors said yesterday.

The revelation came on a day when several defendants in the case were making court appearances and as authorities scoured a Mediterranean island for an alleged co-conspirator who disappeared after he was granted bail.

Authorities said in a court filing that Juan Lazaro made a lengthy statement after his June 27 arrest in which he discussed some details of the operation, which prosecutors said involved Russian moles living under assumed identities in American suburbs.

Among other things, he admitted that "Juan Lazaro" was not his real name, that he was not born in Uruguay, as he had long claimed, that his home in Yonkers had been paid for by Russian intelligence, and that his wife, the Peruvian journalist Vicky Pelaez, had passed letters to the "service" on his behalf.

He also told investigators that even though he loved his son, "he would not violate his loyalty to the 'service' even for his son", three assistant US attorneys wrote in a court memo.

The lawyer for another suspect told a judge yesterday that his client was innocent.

Donald Heathfield and his wife, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, appeared in federal court in Boston yesterday for a bail hearing. A judge granted a delay until July 16 to give their new lawyers time to prepare.

Heathfield's lawyer, Peter Krupp, said afterwards the evidence revealed so far against his client was "extremely thin".


"It essentially suggests that they successfully infiltrated neighbourhoods, cocktail parties and the PTA," he said. "My client looks forward to facing the charges."

As they entered the court in handcuffs and leg shackles, the couple smiled at their sons, a teenager and a college student. The boys waved to their parents.

A magistrate judge in Alexandria, Virginia, postponed a hearing for three other people accused of being foreign agents -- Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills and Mikhail Semenko. It was rescheduled for today.

Hearings were also set for additional defendants in New York, including Mr Lazaro, Ms Pelaez and Richard and Cynthia Murphy.

Police yesterday searched airports, ports and yacht marinas to find an 11th person who was arrested in Cyprus but disappeared after a judge there freed him on $32,500 (€25,950) bail. The man, who had gone by the name Christopher Metsos, failed to show up on Wednesday for a required meeting with police.

Authorities also examined surveillance video from crossing points on the war-divided island, fearing the suspect might have slipped into the breakaway north, a diplomatic no man's land that is recognised only by Turkey and has no extradition treaties.

Not due in court yesterday was Russian beauty Anna Chapman, the alleged spy whose heavy presence on the internet and New York party scene has made her a tabloid sensation. She was previously ordered held without bail.

Eight of the suspects were accused by prosecutors of being foreign-born husband and wife teams who were supposed to be Americanising themselves and gradually developing ties to policymaking circles in the US. Most were living under assumed identities.

Irish Independent

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