Doing the least but paying the most: the spy sent into the cold

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Indy Politics

As television pictures showed the Russian and American jets park beside one another on the tarmac in Vienna, there weren't many in the US feeling sorry for the 10 heading east – except, perhaps, for one of their number: the Peruvian journalist Vicky Pelaez.

As recounted by her lawyers in New York – with some sympathetic spin, no doubt – Ms Pelaez was not entirely in the know when it came to the clandestine doings of the man who had fathered her 17-year-old son, and whom she had loved for more than 30 years, the Uruguayan Juan Lazaro.

Except that wasn't his name, nor his nationality. Armed with the shocking truth, as her lawyer John Rodriguez tells it, Ms Pelaez confronted her mysterious husband, after 11 days of their being held in separate cells and just moments before Thursday's court hearing in Manhattan that cleared the last obstacles to the spy exchange.

"What's your name? What's your real name?" she demanded of Mr Lazaro, 66, according to Rodriguez. Until just days ago, she had no clue that he was not from Uruguay and that his real name was not Lazaro. He is Mikhail Anatonoljevich Vasenkov – from Siberia.

This would apparently explain that when the 10 entered the courtroom of Judge Kimba Wood on Thursday, nine of the spies looked somewhat relieved. But Ms Pelaez, 55, well known as a columnist for a Spanish language newspaper in New York, was gently crying.

Not that she was entirely detached from her other half's nefarious doings. She would occasionally travel to Peru on his behalf – they were married for 18 years – taking messages written in invisible ink to contacts and returning home to Yonkers with bundles of cash.

It seems possible that loyalty to her husband and a naïve blindness to the obvious meant she did not fully understand what she was involving herself in, however. "She knew something, but she did not know the extent of it," Mr Rodriguez told reporters.

The courtroom weeping, meanwhile, might have been the shock of learning the identity of her husband, but also the details of what lay ahead. She was to join the other nine on the plane to Russia, a country she had never seen. The 17-year-old son she had had with Vasenkov would not be coming."For someone who loves their family so much this is the ultimate loss," the lawyer said. "She did the least and paid the most."

Russia, lawyers said, softened the shock slightly, offering Ms Pelaez a monthly stipend of $2,000 for life (presumably for services rendered collecting that cash from Peru), free housing and air tickets to Russia for her son. (She has an older son from a previous marriage.)

If the housing is in Siberia, Ms Pelaez may want to explore another option – abandoning her husband and returning to Peru. If they let her.