Former spy 'is not Russian and wants to go to Peru'

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The Independent Online

At least one of the 10 Russian undercover agents arrested by the FBI and sent back to Moscow last month in a rare spy-swap is having so much difficulty reacclimatising to the motherland that he would rather have his old life back, even if it was one spun out of lies, deceit and treachery.

A lawyer for Juan Lazaro, whose original Russian name is Mikhail Vasenkov, has revealed that her client would like to reclaim his old identity, leave Moscow and return not to his most recent home in Yonkers just north of New York City, but rather to Peru where he met and married his wife, Vicky Pelaez, who was also deported in the spy exchange.

"He says he's Juan Lazaro and he's not from Russia and doesn't speak Russian," the lawyer Genesis Peduto told The Wall Street Journal. There is no word from Moscow on how his request to leave would be viewed. He, his wife and the other eight spies were feted on their return, notably by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who promised them a "bright life" back home.

That Lazaro had burrowed far into his fictitious identity was clear soon after he and the others were arrested. A conversation between him and Ms Pelaez before entering a US court seemed to suggest that even she hadn't known he was Russian and not Uruguayan as he had claimed for 34 years.

Even before the group departed in an exchange that involved the release of four convicted spies by Russia, Ms Pelaez, a former columnist for a Spanish-language newspaper in New York, had indicated she would rather go to Peru, not least because it would be closer to the couple's grown-up son, Juan Jr, who has remained in the US. Mr Lazaro "wants to be where his wife is going", the lawyer said.

The couple moved to the US in the late 1980s. Court papers filed in the US suggested that, while Ms Pelaez had on occasion travelled to Lima on behalf of her husband to exchange documents for cash, she may indeed not have been fully aware that he was employed Russian intelligence.

It transpired that Mr Lazaro took his name from a Uruguayan child who died 63 years ago aged three. Mr Lazaro built his fictitious identity with the help of the dead infant's birth certificate. He was latterly given Peruvian citizenship and both he and his wife still have their Peruvian passports.