It has all the elements of a spy thriller: an accused Russian spy who has invented an identity as a Brazilian. Creating a comprehensive cover story. And what the Dutch authorities said seemed like a foiled plot to gain access to the International Criminal Court investigating Russian war crimes.
Those details came to light this week in a true case in which Dutch officials said 36-year-old Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov spent years building an identity as a Brazilian citizen, polishing a resume that earned him an internship at the International Criminal Court in The Hague before Dutch officials blew up his cover.
According to the Dutch intelligence service, Mr. Cherkasov impersonated a Brazilian named Viktor Muller Ferreira, and landed an internship at the court using a detailed cover story that concealed his ties to Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU.
Mr Cherkasov was supposed to work at the court, but was refused entry to the Netherlands at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam in April after the AIVD, the Dutch intelligence service, tipped off immigration officials. He was sent back to Brazil and declared an “undesirable alien,” intelligence officials said in a statement on Thursday. Officials did not say how they identified him as a spy.
The International Criminal Court is investigating possible war crimes committed by Russia in the invasion of Ukraine, as well as the Russo-Georgian war in 2008.
“Had this person been given the opportunity to actually work at the ICC, he could have gathered information, tracked down (or recruited) sources and accessed the digital systems,” the Dutch intelligence service said in a statement. The GRU is held responsible for cyber attacks on the US and Ukraine.
Dutch intelligence released a document allegedly written by Mr Cherkasov in 2010, which covered up specific details about Mr Ferreira’s alleged background, including which high school he attended and how many students attended the school; health information about his aunt; a crush on a teacher; and how much rent he paid for an apartment in Brasilia.
It can be difficult to tell what is true from such cover stories, as they are often a mixture of real and false information, including personal observations that are difficult to refute, the Dutch intelligence service said.
The document blackens out the names of institutions and other details, though it appeared to have some connection with Johns Hopkins University.
Eugene Finkel, a Ukrainian-born associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, wrote: Twitter that Mr Cherkasov had been in his class and that he had written him a letter of recommendation: “A strong one, in fact. Yes I. I wrote a reference letter for a GRU officer. I will never get over this fact.” Mr Finkel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The International Criminal Court said it was “very grateful to the Netherlands for this important operation and more generally for exposing security threats”.