Flame-haired beauty in Russian spy-ring delights tabloids
Portrayed as a flame-haired, green-eyed femme fatale, a 28-year-old Russian businesswoman has emerged as a tabloid darling in an alleged Cold War-style spy ring uncovered by US authorities.
Anna Chapman's Facebook photo was plastered Tuesday on the front-page of the New York Daily News following her arrest along with 10 other alleged members of a sophisticated network of US-based Russian sleeper agents.
Dubbed the "Red Head" by the New York Post, Chapman is alleged to have passed on information to a Russian official during scenes that could have come straight out of a John Le Carre novel.
The criminal complaint filed by US Justice Department describes how on 10 Wednesdays between January and June 2010 she "covertly exchanged electronic communications via a private wireless network" with her Russian handler.
To avoid having to meet, Chapman and this unidentified man, who the FBI repeatedly observed entering Russia's UN mission in Manhattan, used specially configured laptops to exchange messages.
The complaint describes how on one occasion Chapman sat herself by the window of a Manhattan coffee shop. Her handler passed by 10 minutes later in a minivan, close enough to pick up her communications on their covert network.
Last week an FBI agent, purporting to be a Russian consulate employee, arranged an undercover face-to-face meeting with Chapman in another coffee shop in downtown Manhattan, saying he had something urgent to give her.
During their meeting, detailed exhaustively in the criminal complaint, Chapman is asked to give a fake passport to another Russian agent, presumably another undercover FBI operative.
Asked if she is ready to carry out this "next step," Chapman replies: "Shit, of course," according to the charge sheet.
Chapman appeared in federal court for the first time on Monday in Manhattan, where Judge James Cott ordered her detention.
Dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, she spoke for several minutes with a lawyer after being released from her handcuffs.
According to the New York Post and the Russian news website lifenews.ru, Chapman moved to New York in February from Moscow after a divorce.
In an interview posted on video-sharing site Youtube, Chapman described herself as a start-up specialist, seeking to build a recruitment agency targeting young professionals in Moscow and New York.
In the Youtube video, part of a series titled "Online School for Start-Up" Chapman says she worked for several years in London in an investment company. In Moscow she set up a property search website.
In New York, she had launched a business "Time Venture", specializing in "technology, Internet, media and leisure activities," she adds, claiming to develop global strategies for new businesses.
On Chapman's Facebook page, meanwhile, the budding business tycoon sets out a bold personal philosophy. "If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it," she comments.
During Monday's court hearing, Chapman's business was valued at 2 million dollars.
Her lawyer Robert Baum argued vigorously against Chapman's incarceration, claiming she was an innocent, who had wrongly caught in the FBI dragnet.
"The complaint alleges the conspiracy has been going on since 1990. But my client did not place foot in the United States until 2005," Baum said, adding that Chapman's visa had been revoked last Saturday.
Judge Cott rejected her court-appointed attorney's pleas however. "The defendant was not just the innocent by-stander. The defendant will be detained," he said.
© 2010 AFP