Sus­pect’s looks, life­style make her celebrity in Rus­sia spy case

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Robin Ab­car­ian and Geral­dine Baum

NEW YORK — Talk about your Amer­i­can dream. One day you’re a 28-year-old red­haired beauty from Rus­sia try­ing to make it as a “busi­ness­woman” in New York City.

The next, your name and sexy Face­book pro­file photo are splashed all over the world, your ev­ery sta­tus update — “Pain is only weak­ness leav­ing the body,” for in­stance — the sub­ject of in­ter­na­tional fas­ci­na­tion. You are a femme fatale.

And all you did was al­legedly par­tic­i­pate in a Rus­sian spy ring.

Ev­ery good Cold War-style spy scan­dal needs a Natasha, and Anna Chap­man, who ap­peared in court Mon­day in de­signer jeans and a white T-shirt, has emerged as the tale’s star an­tag­o­nist.

If Chap­man, who is also known as Anya Kushchenko, is found guilty of what the govern­ment has charged — con­spir­ing to act as an un­reg­is­tered agent of Rus­sia — she faces a max­i­mum sen­tence of five years in prison. In court Mon­day, her at­tor­ney de­scribed the charges against her as “in­nocu­ous” and asked the judge to dis­miss them.

The judge re­fused. Chap­man is sched­uled to be back in court July 27.

Her al­leged co-con­spir­a­tors ap­peared to lead clas­si­cally sub­ur­ban lives — sell­ing real es­tate, at­tend­ing school bar­be­cues, driv­ing Hon­das.

But Chap­man’s story is fod­der for the tabloids. “ ‘Se­cret’ sex­pot par­tied, shopped & schmoozed way through ‘free coun­try,’ ” read a head­line in Wed­nes­day’s New York Post.

The Post called her a “mod­ern-day Mata

Hari” and “vi­va­cious vixen” and re­ported that she is di­vorced from a French su­per­mar­ket heir. The Guardian in London re­ported that her fa­ther be­came Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to Kenya when she was in eighth grade.

Un­named friends (anony­mous for fear of “pos­si­ble re­tal­i­a­tion by Rus­sian in­ter­ests”) told ABC News that Chap­man was a reg­u­lar on the down­town New York club scene and was thought to be “ei­ther a bil­lion­aire or a hooker.”

The fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor was less po­etic. To As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Michael Far­biarz, Chap­man is a “prac­ticed de­ceiver.” Ac­cord­ing to the govern­ment’s com­plaint, start­ing in Jan­uary, Chap­man covertly ex­changed in­for­ma­tion 10 times in var­i­ous New York lo­cales with a Rus­sian govern­ment of­fi­cial.

The com­plaint in­cludes ex­cerpts of Chap­man’s con­ver­sa­tions with an un­der­cover FBI agent, who posed as a Rus­sian con­sulate em­ployee in or­der to smoke her out. The FBI agent de­scribed how Chap­man was to hand off a fraud­u­lent pass­port to an uniden­ti­fied woman who would rec­og­nize Chap­man by a mag­a­zine she was in­structed to hold just so.

The uniden­ti­fied pass­port re­cip­i­ent was to say, “Ex­cuse me, but haven’t we met in Cal­i­for­nia last sum­mer?” Chap­man was told to re­ply, “No, I think it was the Hamp­tons.”

But Chap­man was leery, pros­e­cu­tors said. “You’re pos­i­tive no one is watch­ing?” they say she asked the un­der­cover agent af­ter be­ing given the in­struc­tions.

After­ward, au­thor­i­ties say, she was concerned enough to buy a cell phone and make a “flurry of calls” to Rus­sia. In one of the in­ter­cepted calls, a man ad­vised her that she might have been un­cov­ered and that she should turn in the pass­port to po­lice and get out of the coun­try.

She was ar­rested at a New York Po­lice Depart­ment precinct af­ter fol­low­ing that ad­vice, au­thor­i­ties said.

On Wed­nes­day, her mother, who lives in western Moscow, told The As­so­ci­ated Press that Chap­man was wrongly ac­cused of try­ing to help Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence col­lect U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ing in­for­ma­tion.

“Of course I be­lieve that she’s in­no­cent,” Irina Kushchenko said be­fore re­fus­ing to com­ment fur­ther.

Chap­man, and nine oth­ers ac­cused of be­ing ring mem­bers were ar­rested across the North­east and charged with fail­ing to reg­is­ter as for­eign agents, a crime that is less se­ri­ous than es­pi­onage and car­ries up to five years in prison. Some also face money laun­der­ing charges.

1 sus­pect dis­ap­pears

An 11th sus­pect was ar­rested in Cyprus, ac­cused of pass­ing money to the other 10 over sev­eral years. But he van­ished af­ter be­ing re­leased on bail, au­thor­i­ties said Wed­nes­day. The man, who had gone by the name Christo­pher Met­sos, had been ar­rested Tues­day on the Mediter­ranean is­land as he tried to board a flight for Budapest, Hun­gary.

On Wed­nes­day, af­ter a Cypriot judge had freed him on $32,500 bail, he failed to show for a re­quired meet­ing with po­lice.

Dead baby’s ID stolen?

In an­other twist, a Cana­dian man said an al­leged Rus­sian spy stole the iden­tity of his younger brother, Don­ald Heathfield, who died as an in­fant in Mon­treal in 1963.

David Heath field said Wed­nes­day he thinks the Rus­sians found his brother’s 47-year-old death no­tice in a Mon­treal news­pa­per. “Ini­tially I thought it was a joke and then it turned to shock,” Heathfield said.

The ar­rested man iden­ti­fied as Don­ald Heathfield worked for a man­age­ment con­sult­ing firm and lived in Cam­bridge, Mass. Pros­e­cu­tors said in 2004 Heathfield met with an em­ployee of the U.S. govern­ment to dis­cuss nu­clear weapons re­search.

“With the Cold War over I thought this spy thing was over and done with, but I guess it’s still go­ing on,” David Heathfield said. “For some­body to be us­ing my brother’s name for 20, 30 years-plus … it’s kind of scary.”

Anna Chap­man faces up to 5 years in prison.

Pet­ros Karadi­jias

A cam­era­man films the door of a ho­tel room thought to have been used by es­pi­onage sus­pect Christo­pher Mestos in Cyprus. Mestos dis­ap­peared af­ter a Cypriot judge re­leased him on bail.

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