Alleged Russian spy 'no Mata Hari': mother
The Russian girl accused by the United States of acting as a Kremlin agent and branded by the media as a flame-haired femme fatale is "no Mata Hari" but an average young woman, her mother said Wednesday.
Anna Chapman, who kept the name of her British ex-husband, is fiercely independent and driven but has never stood out as above average, her mother Irina Kushchenko told the Russian tabloid daily Tvoi Den.
"I don't think Anna is a Mata Hari. She had the normal life of a 28-year-old woman," Kushchenko said, referring to the Dutch exotic dancer executed by the French for espionage during World War One.
"As an ex-teacher, I can say she never quite shined among her peers. But she was good, close to the top of her class."
Anna Chapman's ex-husband Alex has alleged in interviews with the British press that she was recruited by her father, Vasily Kushchenko, who he said posed as a Russian diplomat but was in fact a KGB agent.
With her parents often abroad on diplomatic postings, Chapman learned to fend for herself at an early age and keep secret her problems while living with her ailing grandparents, Kushchenko said.
"Anna was always an open, happy child. She deeply loved her grandmother and grandfather and tried to hide from them whatever negative things were happening in her life," she said.
"Life was hard work for her.... She never counted on us. She always tried to achieve everything on her own."
Chapman is among 11 alleged "deep-cover" agents suspected of trying to infiltrate US policymaking circles and report back to Moscow in a Cold War style spy case.
Kushchenko insisted her daughter was innocent and had been wrongly caught up in the FBI dragnet.
She said a scared Chapman had phoned her father for help in the days before her arrest after an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian consulate worker asked her to deliver a fake passport to another suspected spy.
"She was dumbfounded, scared. It was a shock, in such a situation your brain completely shuts down, so she called her father," Kushchenko said.
"She said someone tried to provoke her, that they gave her something...
"He told her she must make everything legal as soon as possible and hand it over to the police. On her father's advice, she went and they arrested her."
Unlike most of her alleged spy-ring conspirators, Chapman did not live under a fake identity in the United States.
Her mother said Chapman moved to New York to seek her fortune, after running into troubles with her online real estate business amid the financial crisis.
"She said often that there was cheap real estate in America, that it was Klondike-like," Kushchenko said, referencing the frenzied gold-rush migration to the northwestern United States and Canada in the late 19th century.
"She wanted to go there, check everything out and maybe open a business. After all, New York is the city of millionaires. But this, sadly, is what came of the attempt," her mother said.
Chapman was arrested on June 27 and faces a five-year sentence for conspiracy to act as agent against a foreign government.
The charges are lighter than those facing by nine other suspects who could also get up to 25 years in prison for money laundering.
None of the suspects were accused of the more serious offence of espionage.
"What can I say to her? I myself popped pills to deal with the shock," Kushchenko said, adding she wished to be able to visit her jailed daughter but: "Who would give us a visa?"
© 2010 AFP