The case of a GRU spy, a Russian native of Kaliningrad, who studied in the United States as an alleged Brazilian citizen and almost got a job at the International Criminal Court, but was eventually exposed and ended up in prison, is on trial in Washington [GRU is the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the General Staff of the Armed Forces – ed.].
Source: The Washington Post, citing anonymous US, European, and Brazilian officials, as well as materials from court proceedings in Brazil and an indictment in the USA
At the end of last week, the US Ministry of Justice sent the indictment against Victor Muller Ferreira to the Federal Court. According to officials and court records, his real name is Sergey Cherkasov, and he had spent nearly a decade building the fictitious Ferreira persona. He was exposed last year.
The charges brought before the court resulted from years of work by the FBI. Among other things, the investigators got access to the materials collected by the Brazilian authorities and also received permission to meet with Cherkasov-Ferreira, who is currently in custody in São Paulo.
In 2018, "Ferreira" was admitted to Johns Hopkins University to study international relations.
According to the FBI, in recent years, thanks to his contacts in Washington, Cherkasov became a useful person for Russian intelligence and passed his supervisors in the GRU information that could be of interest to them – among other things, how top officials in the Biden administration reacted to Russia's build-up of troops near the borders of Ukraine before the full-scale war.
After he graduated, "Ferreira" came close to achieving a more consequential penetration, when he was offered a position at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He was due to start a six-month internship there last year — just as the court began investigating Russian war crimes in Ukraine.
However, the plans did not come true. Dutch authorities turned him away acting on information relayed by the FBI. Officials in the Netherlands put him on a plane back to Brazil, where he was arrested upon landing and is now serving a 15-year prison sentence for document fraud related to his fake identity.
Authorities have mined Cherkasov's computer and other devices and found a trove of evidence, according to court records and security officials, including emails to his Russian handlers, details about "dead drops" where messages could be left, records of illicit money transfers, and an error-strewn personal history that he appears to have composed while trying to memorise details of his fictitious life. Among other things, he prepared an explanation for his unusual appearance and accent by claiming that his ancestors were German, and he himself spent a lot of time abroad.
The GRU appears to have exploited vulnerabilities in Brazil's immigration and record-keeping system, while also relying on inside help. A notary who signed off on many of Cherkasov’s fraudulent submissions received expensive gifts from him.
Russia has denied that Cherkasov is a spy and requested his extradition from Brazil by presenting what U.S. officials regard as yet another fictional identity, claiming that he is neither a student nor a secret agent but a wanted heroin trafficker who fled Russia to avoid prison.
Cherkasov's accounts of his life have also shifted dramatically. After initially insisting that he was Ferreira and that Dutch authorities were mistaken, he admitted his Russian identity in hopes that doing so would help him secure a reduced sentence.
In the US, Cherkasov is accused of agent activity for the benefit of a foreign state, as well as fraud related to bank accounts and visas.
It is not clear whether the United States will also seek Cherkasov's extradition, but U.S. officials said one of the considerations behind the indictment was that it might help preempt Russia's attempt to secure the return of its spy.
This is at least the second case of exposure of Russian agents who worked under the guise of Brazilian citizens. For example, an employee of the GRU was detained in Norway last autumn; he pretended to be a Brazilian professor and got a job at the Arctic University of Tromsø.