Even young engineers need to make ends meet. Just hired in a large French civil-military technology company specializing in artificial intelligence, one of them was still publishing, in 2020, offers of mathematics courses on the Leboncoin.fr site. This is how he was contacted by a consultant of Czech nationality anxious to perfect his knowledge. Lessons that took place once every three weeks during dinners at the restaurant whose date and place were, each time, fixed at the end of the course. The bill was paid in cash. But his student was not what he believed. It was, in reality, an attempt at recruitment by a Russian intelligence agent (SVR, from the former KGB) in charge of scientific and technological issues at the economic mission of its embassy in Paris.
In November 2020, this spy, Valentin Vladimirovich Zakharov, was expelled after being caught red-handed while handing cash to this young engineer in exchange for analytical documents on cutting-edge technologies. Invited to state his identity by the French counterintelligence officers (DGSI), he maintained, at first, his legend of the “Czech consultant”, before acknowledging his true identity when they presented him with the copy of his official diplomatic accreditation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Details confirmed at World by a French diplomat posted in Paris.
This case comes, in turn, to support the use of a new practice of Russian espionage in France. According to a source from the Interior Ministry, “a dozen approaches to French nationals on Leboncoin.fr type sites by SVR officers” have been recorded in recent years, up to 2022. Moscow spies have targeted, each time, “soft profiles but with high potential”, students, graduates of major schools or young professionals. All of them are likely to occupy, in the future, positions of responsibility in cutting-edge companies or important functions within the French administration. Their curiosity focused primarily on domestic policy, scientific research and technological innovations.
Increase your pay
After a few math lessons, Zakharov, the fake Czech consultant, offered the young engineer to increase his salary in exchange for reports and documents on scientific research in certain advanced technological fields. At first, this promising young beginner in the French military-industrial universe did not see any harm in the qualified questions “innocuous and legitimate”, because linked to surveys carried out in France by the consulting firm of his “student”. They were intended, in fact, to test his receptivity to solicitations outside the strict framework of the courses. Doubts reportedly arose when Valentin Zakharov insisted on obtaining sensitive information directly related to his work.
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Russian spies are recruiting on Leboncoin
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