A man accused of being a Russian spy by the US government is alleged to have transferred thousands of dollars from an Irish bank to pay for tuition fees at an American university.
The suspected Russian intelligence officer Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, who used the alias Victor Muller Ferreira while living in Ireland, has been charged in the US district court for the District of Columbia for acting as an illegal agent of the Russian intelligence service and for fraud.
According to a legal complaint filed in the US court last Friday, Cherkasov used 2018 bank records from Bank of Ireland showing more than €66,731 in his Irish bank account to support his application to an university.
The university is not named in the court papers but has been identified by US media outlet CNN as Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC.
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The alleged spy taught in an English language college in Dublin for more than a year and studied political science at Trinity College Dublin from 2014 to 2018 when he graduated.
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Before his studies in Dublin, he assumed his new identity in Brazil in 2010 after obtaining a fraudulent birth certificate and creating a fictitious childhood story, the court papers allege.
He used details of his deposits in the Irish bank and the supporting records in his application to the US university to prove that he could afford the tuition fees and support himself financially.
After being accepted into the prestigious college, he is alleged to have sent an email to his Russian handler expressing excitement at securing a place in an American college and a US visa.
He told the handler in an email in May 2018 that there was “no better and more prestigious place for us to be”. He also spoke of his excitement at securing a US visa in a subsequent email.
“The work is done – we will go to the US. We will go there with the status of a f***ing top-dude with the fantastic work perspectives, citizenship perspectives. We go there being welcomed! We won, bro. Now we are in the big-boys league,” he wrote in an email detailed in court papers.
Cherkasov, a Russian-born citizen, was arrested in Brazil in April 2022 and charged with identity theft and fraud after he travelled to The Hague in the Netherlands in an attempt to start an internship with the International Criminal Court. He was denied entry and returned to Brazil.
Russia has been attempting to extradite him on claims he is wanted for drug trafficking, but the FBI suspects the Russians are using the charges as cover to repatriate their spy.
The US court papers show that Cherkasov transferred $53,700 in electronic payments from his accounts at a US bank and an unnamed Irish bank to the US university.
From August 2018 to March 2020 he made four debit card transactions in Washington DC to the university totalling $52,361. One of the debit cards used was issued by the Irish bank.
The legal complaint also discloses Cherkasov’s earlier financial details with Bank of Ireland.
According to the court papers filed last week, Cherkasov received €750 into a Bank of Ireland account registered in the name of Ferreira in December 2016 from a Russian individual identified as an official working at Russia’s general consulate in Brazil.
Communications show that Cherkasov was taking directions from the Russian consul during the period when he was living in Dublin and studying at Trinity.
“It seems your father is worried for not receiving any news from you. Send him news,” the Russian official emailed Cherkasov the week before the money transfer.
The FBI claims that in 2021 Cherkasov flew from Dublin to Yerevan in Armenia via Frankfurt and travelled on to Russia for medical tests at a clinic in Kaliningrad where he was born.
In last week’s complaint, an unnamed FBI special agent told the US court that Russian intelligence regularly provides its spies, known as “illegals”, with false identities and false personal histories and education – known as a “legend” – that they use as part of their cover.
“The cornerstones of an illegal’s legend are false identity documents. Through those fraudulent documents, illegals assume identifies as citizens or legal residents of the countries to which they are deployed, including the United States,” said the FBI agent. “Illegals will sometimes pursue degrees at target-country universities, obtain employment and join relevant professional associations. Those activities enhance an illegal’s legend.”
Asked to comment on Cherkasov’s use of Bank of Ireland accounts, a spokesman for the bank said that it would be inappropriate to comment on a matter that is subject to ongoing legal action.