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