A couple using cover identities of Argentina nationals, recently arrested in Slovenia, turned out to be professional spies, known as “illegals,” that is, operating without a diplomatic cover under fake aliases, hired by Russia’s SVR Foreign Intelligence Service.
According to the publication, “Maria Mayer” and “Ludwig Gisch” came from Argentina and settled in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana in 2017 along with their two young children. Mayer opened an online art platform 5’14 gallery, while Gisch managed an IT startup, DSM&IT. At the same time, people they got to know in the country never noticed any suspicious activity, speaking of the couple as “ordinary” and “nice” family.
The arrest of the couple was the result of one of the most secretive and well-coordinated police and intelligence operations in recent Slovenian history, the report reads.
The two were taken into custody, and their two children were placed in social care. The police also searched the office belonging to the couple. Among the findings, as per a source familiar with the investigation, was an “enormous” pile of cash, so large that it took several hours to count.
At the end of January, Slovenia’s media reported on the arrests, linking this couple to Russian intelligence. Sources in Ljubljana told the Guardian this week that “Maria and Ludwig” were actually elite Russian spies known as “illegals”. The arrests took place after Slovenia received a tip from foreign intelligence, the article says.
It is also reported that on Thursday, Slovenian Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon confirmed these reports, telling journalists that the arrested couple were actually citizens of the Russian Federation, not Argentina. Fajon also said the Russian ambassador was being summoned to discuss the case.
As the Guardian writes, unlike most Russian spies, who pose as diplomats in Russian embassies around the world, “illegals” operate without any visible ties to Moscow. They are trained for years to impersonate foreigners before being sent abroad to gather intelligence. Many of them have children who are brought up without any idea that their parents are actually Russian.
The suspects are members of a foreign intelligence service who used illegally obtained foreign IDs to live and work in Slovenia under fake identities and secretly gather intelligence, Slovenian police spokesman Drago Menegali said.
In addition, two more sources familiar with the case told the publication that the couple had been working for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), without giving out their real names. If the couple are indeed ‘illegals’ from the SVR, this will be the first such case that has become public since 2010, when the FBI detained a group of 10 in the United States on a tip-off from a ‘mole’ in Russian intelligence, the article says.
One of the sources also told the Guardian that in informal conversations after the couple was arrested, Moscow quickly admitted that they were intelligence agents. According to the source, behind-the-scenes negotiations are underway between Moscow and Western nations about them being exchanged for one or several persons currently held in Russian prisons.
According to the source, the main part of the activities of the exposed “illegals” took place outside of Slovenia. Also, a large amount of cash found during a raid in the office may indicate that the couple’s duties also included paying Russian informal agents or informants. It is known that both Russian agents often traveled allegedly for work purposes.
Alongside this, as the Guardian writes, there are indications that the couple arrested in Slovenia could be part of a wider illegal SVR network. Soon after the arrests in Ljubljana, a Greek woman and the Brazilian man quickly left Athens and Rio de Janeiro, respectively. According to Greek media reports, Greek authorities believe that the couple were also SVR illegals and may have fled, fearing that the couple arrested in Slovenia might blow their cover, the article said.
It is noted that this is about Maria Tsalla, who posed as a Greek repatriate, but in fact she was an “illegal” from the Russian SVR named Irina who owned a knitting shop in Athens and ran a photo blog. She left Greece on January 5, telling friends she was going on holiday and wanted to buy yarn for her shop. In late January, she wrote to an employee at her store that something important had happened in her life and she would not be coming back.
As Ukrinform reported earlier, late January it became known that the Intelligence and Security Service of Slovenia in Ljubljana detained two foreigners who are suspected of espionage for Russia.
Source : Ukrinform