A glamorous estate agent said to be at the centre of the alleged Russian spy ring was the subject of an urgent investigation in Britain last night, after evidence emerged that she had worked in London before moving to the US.
Anna Chapman, 28, who is one of 11 people accused by the US authorities of posing as suburban professionals while working for Moscow's intelligence service, claims in a profile on an online networking site that she lived in London between 2003 and 2007, working for a number of companies, including Barclays Bank and a private jet leasing firm.
The Foreign Office confirmed that it was investigating the British links of Ms Chapman, whose striking looks, high-flying lifestyle as a real-estate broker with an expensive flat in Manhattan, and many photographs on her Facebook page have made her the focus of much of the media coverage about the apparently inept spy ring.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "This is primarily a matter for the US authorities but of course we will ensure we look into any suggested British links. We will be investigating this fully with the US. We are establishing the facts, so it would be wrong to comment further at this stage."
MI5 is understood to be trawling its databases to check whether the Russian-born entrepreneur, who is the daughter of a leading diplomat, according to reports in Moscow, could have been working for the SVR, the successor to the KGB, while in Britain.
Ms Chapman does not seem to have led a settled existence in London and exaggerated her achievements in the City on her CV. NetJets Europe, which is part of one of the world's largest executive aircraft hiring firms, confirmed that she had been employed for three months between May and July 2004 at its London office as an assistant in its sales department.
On her CV, she claimed to have worked for the company for a year and was "primarily involved in selling private jets to companies and individuals in Russia". A source at NetJets said Ms Chapman, who has a Master's degree in economics, had been a secretarial worker and had no direct contact with the company's clients.
After leaving NetJets, she joined Barclays, between August 2004 and July 2005. Contrary to her claims to have worked in the bank's investment division, describing how she laboured "as a slave", the company said yesterday that the only Anna Chapman it had employed at that time had worked in its small business unit.
Navigator Asset Management Advisers, a Mayfair-based hedge fund where Ms Chapman claimed to have worked after Barclays, declined to comment yesterday.
Mystery remains over the identity of the alleged spy's British husband, from whom she is reported to have separated after their marriage in 2006. Friends in Moscow suggested that he was the son of a director of French hypermarket chain Auchan, but the company denied the link.
British investigators will also have to establish whether another member of the supposed "deep-cover" espionage team – described by one expert as "more Austin Powers than James Bond" – had travelled using a suspected forged UK passport. Tracey Foley was found with the document when she was arrested in Boston on Monday and is said to have used it to travel to Moscow.Reuse content