One June night in 2010, Henry Frith asked the son of his live-in partner for a lift to Madrid airport early the next morning.Más...
Frith didn’t say where he was flying to. He rarely did when Alejandro Valdezate Sánchez regularly drove him to Madrid Barajas international airport for one of his many business trips.
The next day, agents from the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, the Spanish security service, came to Valdezate’s home to interview him. The conversation was calm and courteous, but one thing soon became clear to Valdezate: Frith wouldn’t be coming back. He never did.
A stocky, 50-something man with a bushy moustache, Frith had for almost two decades led a seemingly normal madrileño life. He ran Frimor Consultores, which presented itself as a “high value, reliable consultancy and business services company” specialized in “socio-economic studies.” Frith traveled frequently for business, mostly to Central Europe, sometimes as far away as Chile.
He had friends and liked a drink. Frith spoke Spanish with a slight accent, which he attributed to his mixed upbringing, having been born in Ecuador to an Ecuadorian mother and a father from New Zealand.
So he said.
According to Western intelligence sources, the industrious life of a busy, frequent-flying Spanish consultant was a front.
Frith, they say, was born Sergey Yuryevich Cherepanov in Russia in 1955 — two years before his alleged birth in Ecuador. Back in Moscow, Cherepanov had a wife, Olga Konstantinova Cherepanova, and a son, Andrei. During all the years he spent in Spain, he served as an officer in the SVR, the Russian foreign security services.
“Henry Frith,” these sources allege, was an alias for a Russian spy, a so-called “illegal” who lived for years under a carefully constructed “legend” — a false identity, complete with a fake history and background. He is the first “illegal” to have been uncovered and publicly named in Europe since the end of the Cold War.
There are, they say, others like him on the Continent.
This story is based on interviews with European intelligence sources — including those directly involved in the case — documents and photographs reviewed by POLITICO, as well as people who knew Frith/Cherepanov in Madrid.
As relations between Moscow and the West have gone from guarded cooperation to hostile defiance under Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB head, the scope of intelligence activities, and the number of Russian spies operating in Europe, has “roughly doubled,” according to the former head of a major European power’s intelligence service, who added that in such matters, “estimates are by definition difficult.” The spy chief, who was still on active duty back in 2010, said he hadn’t heard of the Frith/Cherepanov case.