The plot, as they say, thickens. A Mexican visiting scientist at Singapore’s Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School was arrested in the US on February 16 on charges related to acting on the Russian government’s behalf.
According to federal prosecutors, Mr Fuentes had been recruited by Russian agents to take pictures of the vehicle of a US government source.
Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes was arrested in Miami as he and his wife were just about to get on a plane back to Mexico. A customs officer asked to look at their mobile phones and discovered a picture of a license plate among the recently deleted files on the phone of Mr Fuentes’ wife. This plate was from the car belonging to a confidential US government source who had been giving information about the Russian Intelligence Service, according to a release on February 19 from the US Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs.
The scientist is listed on NUS’ website as one of the chief researchers of a study on cardiovascular disease in 2016. When he appeared before a judge in Miami after his arrest, he told the judge that he was making S$7,500 a month as a researcher at the NUS.
In 2015 he presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s conference in London, and his write up from the conference says he graduated from Kazan Federal University in Russia, where he obtained a degree in molecular biology.
Upon being questioned about the photo on his wife’s phone, Mr Fuented told agents form the U.S. Customs and Border Protection that he had instructed his wife to take the picture.
The press release from the US DOJ says, that “a Russian government official recruited Fuentes in 2019 and directed Fuentes to rent a specific property in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The Russian official told Fuentes not to rent the apartment in Fuentes’s own name and not to tell his family about their meetings. Fuentes travelled to Russia and informed the Russian government official about the arrangements. The official approved and told Fuentes to see him again on his next trip to Russia.
In February 2020, Fuentes travelled to Moscow again and met with the Russian government official. At this meeting, the Russian government official provided Fuentes with a physical description of a U.S. Government source’s vehicle and told Fuentes to locate the car, obtain the source’s vehicle license plate number, and note the physical location of the source’s vehicle. The Russian official instructed Fuentes to meet the Russian official again in April or May 2020, to inform him of the results of the search for the source’s vehicle.”
According to Mr Fuentes, Russian officials first reached out to him when he went to Russia to visit his other wife and her two daughters. This woman, whose nationality has not been specified, had visited Russia with her two children and then not been allowed to leave the country.
Federal prosecutors say that Mr Fuentes was told by the Russian official that they could “help each other.”
This led to Mr Fuentes’ recruitment to take photos for the Russian government. He has now been charged with acting on behalf of a foreign agent without notifying the attorney general as well as conspiracy to act on behalf of a foreign agent.
He is now scheduled for a pretrial detention hearing on Friday, February 21 and arraignment for March 3, 2020, which will both occur n U.S. magistrate court in Miami, Florida. -/TISG