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Russian 'spy' arrested following Dutch operation 'not the only' agent to have worked in Ireland

Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov had studied in Ireland under the false Brazilian alias Viktor Muller Ferreira.

Library Square and the Campanile, Trinity College, Dublin.
Library Square and the Campanile, Trinity College, Dublin.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

AN ALLEGED RUSSIAN spy who studied in Ireland was known to Irish counter intelligence operations, sources have confirmed. 

The Journal has also been told that he is not the only undeclared agent living undercover in Ireland – not just from Russia, but from other countries also.

It was alleged late on Thursday evening in a statement from the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) that the man, named Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, had been posing as a Brazilian national. 

The service said it stopped Cherkasov, who was using the alias Viktor Muller Ferreira, as he attempted to infiltrate the International Criminal Court (ICC), located in The Hague. 

The ICC is currently investigating war crimes by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.   

Cherkasov is alleged to be a member of the GRU, which has the full title the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

Its role is military intelligence, and security sources said the agency has a massive global footprint with a significantly advanced technology capability for monitoring and providing secure communications.

Cherkasov allegedly flew to the Netherlands in April using an elaborate deep cover story that he had built up over the past 12 years.

But Dutch authorities said they saw through his fake identity as 33-year-old Brazilian citizen named Viktor Muller Ferreira, and unmasked him as an agent of Moscow’s GRU military intelligence.

Cherkasov was put on the next flight back to Brazil, where police said he was arrested for identity fraud.

Sources with a knowledge of counter espionage operations said that the State, particularly military intelligence, helped Dutch authorities uncover the background of Cherkasov, 36.

“J2, known as the Irish Military Intelligence Service abroad, have been assisting international partners for a long time on this one,” a security source said. 

It has now emerged that Cherkasov had been living and working in Ireland from June 2014 to August 2015 under the Brazilian identity. 

Sources have confirmed that he studied under his Brazilian alias in Trinity College.

Separately his CV, which is available online, shows that after he graduated with a degree in political science from the Dublin University he moved to Washington DC. 

Multiple sources have said that Irish intelligence operatives attached to J2 military intelligence and also garda Crime and Security were aware of Cherkasov.

Sources have said that Cherkasov is not the only GRU operative in Ireland, he was not directly attached to the Russian Embassy but was working “off side” for them.

“He was here, the security services were aware of him. J2 and the guards are well aware of the activities of these agents.

“He is not the only Russian GRU agent who has worked here in Ireland and the Russians are not the only people running agents in the State – they are being monitored.

“A lot of the counter espionage work is about monitoring these people and collating their movements, who they meet and what they are up to,” a security source said.  

In February The Journal revealed that the Russian Embassy in Dublin was running secret intelligence activities.

We also revealed that Ireland was being used as a communications and training hub for agents operating in Europe. 

In March Ireland announced it would expel four Russian staff at the Dublin embassy. 

Now the Dutch case against Cherkasov has shown this activity in clear detail.

The head of the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service, or AIVD, said it was “very rare” to catch a Russian agent “of this calibre”.

“The GRU has spent years creating this fake identity. It’s an enormous effort,” Erik Akerboom was quoted as saying by the Dutch ANP news agency.

‘Cover identity’

Cherkasov was a so-called “illegal” – spy parlance for an agent who has lived abroad under a fake identity for years – whose “well-constructed cover identity” hid all ties with Russia, the AIVD said.

The Dutch even released a four-page document setting out Cherkasov’s “legend” that was likely written by Cherkasov himself in around 2010. 

A legend is a back story used by spies to prevent detection – it is essentially the story of the false life they live under. 

The highly detailed document in Portuguese – but with grammatical mistakes – includes stories about his background, including his supposedly troubled relationship with his parents, his hatred of fish, his crush on a teacher.

It also tries to cover up doubts about his Brazilian heritage, saying that he was nicknamed “Gringo” because he “looked like a German” and includes full addresses of a restaurant in Brasilia with the “best brown stew in town” and a trance music club, in an apparent attempt to back up his cover story.

The Dutch intelligence service however pinpointed him as a “threat to national security” and notified the immigration service.

“On these grounds the intelligence officer was refused entry into the Netherlands in April and declared unacceptable. He was sent back to Brazil on the first flight out,” the AIVD said.

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The Russian’s internship would have given him access to the ICC’s building and systems at a time when it is probing war crimes in Ukraine, including alleged Russian crimes since the February 24 invasion.

“For those reasons, covert access to International Criminal Court information would be highly valuable to the Russian intelligence services,” the AIVD said.

Had the Russian spy succeeded “he would have been able to gather intelligence there and to look for (or recruit) sources, and arrange to have access to the ICC’s digital systems,” it added.

“He might also have been able to influence criminal proceedings of the ICC.”

‘Important operation’

Brazil’s federal police said they had arrested a man, whom they did not name, in April after he was refused entry to the Netherlands because he was using fake ID.

“Using a sophisticated falsification scheme, he assumed the forged identity of a Brazilian whose parents are already dead,” the police said in a statement, adding that he remains in detention pending trial.

The Russian had entered Brazil in 2010 and also lived in Ireland and the United States, before returning to Brazil to prepare for his move to the Netherlands, the force said.

He was due to start a “six-month trial period at the International Criminal Court as a junior analyst in the Preliminary Examinations Section”, they said.

The ICC thanked the Dutch investigators for exposing the spy.

“The International Criminal Court was briefed by the Dutch authorities and is very thankful to The Netherlands for this important operation and more generally for exposing security threats,” spokeswoman Sonia Robla said in a statement to AFP.

There was no immediate reaction from Russia.

The Dutch have a history of exposing Russian intelligence operations on their soil.

In 2018 the Netherlands expelled four alleged Russian GRU spies whom it accused of trying to hack the global chemical weapons watchdog while it was investigating attacks in Syria.

Asked for a statement on the developments, the Irish Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána declined to comment.

With reporting from © AFP 2022

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