SINGAPORE — A Mexican national accused by the US of spying for the Russian government is an employee of two medical institutions in Singapore.
Dr Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes, a 34-year-old Singapore resident, is a senior research fellow at the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) and holds a joint appointment in the Cardiovascular & Metabolic Disorders Programme at Duke-NUS Medical School.
“He has been suspended pending investigation in the US,” said NHCS medical director Professor Terrance Chua on Thursday (20 February) in response to queries from Yahoo News Singapore. He added that he was unable to comment further given the status of the case.
Search for ‘US government source’
Fuentes was arrested in Miami, Florida, for acting within the US on behalf of Russia without notifying the Attorney General, said the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in a news release on Tuesday.
Court documents cited by the DOJ stated that Fuentes had been recruited by a Russian government official last year. The official had directed Fuentes to rent an apartment in Miami-Dade County, Florida, but told Fuentes not to use his name for the property and to not inform his family about their meetings.
Fuentes then travelled to Moscow to meet the Russian official and informed the latter about the arrangements. The official approved and told Fuentes to see him again on his next visit to Russia.
Earlier this month, Fuentes again travelled to Moscow and met the same official, who provided Fuentes with the description of a vehicle belonging to a “US Government source”. The DOJ release did not elaborate further on the source’s identity.
The Russian official tasked Fuentes with obtaining the license plate number of the source’s vehicle and to note its physical location. Fuentes was then instructed to meet the Russian official again in April or May this year to update the latter on the results of his search.
Arrested at Miami airport
On 13 February this year, Fuentes travelled to Miami from Mexico City. The following day, his rental car caught the attention of a security guard at the source’s housing complex after Fuentes tailgated another vehicle to enter the property’s compound.
When the guard approached Fuentes’ car, his wife stepped out of the vehicle and snapped a picture of the license plate belonging to the source’s vehicle with her mobile phone. Fuentes’ wife was not named in the DOJ release.
Asked by security as to their nature of business at the property, Fuentes gave the name of a person they were purportedly there to visit. The property’s security, however, did not recognise the person as living there and told Fuentes to leave the premises.
On Sunday evening, Fuentes and his wife were stopped by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency at the Miami International Airport prior to boarding their flight to Mexico City.
When agency officers inspected the mobile phone belonging to Fuentes’ wife, they found a close-up image of the source’s vehicle license plate number in the device’s “recently deleted folder”. Fuentes then admitted that he had asked his wife to take the picture.
Further reviewing of the phone found a WhatsApp message sent from Fuentes’ wife to Fuentes containing the same image.
“Fuentes admitted to law enforcement officers that he was directed by a Russian government official to conduct this operation. According to court documents, messages on Fuentes’s phone showed that the Russian official initiated and directed the meetings,” said the DOJ release.
A pre-trial detention hearing has been set for Fuentes’ case on Friday morning, while his arraignment is set for 3 March. Both hearings will take place in a US magistrate court in Miami, Florida.
Yahoo News Singapore has reached out to the Singapore authorities on the matter.
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