Was a Russian agent working at Singapore’s Duke-NUS? The US seems to think so.

Entrance of the Duke-NUS medical school at 8 College Road in Singapore. Photo: Facebook
Entrance of the Duke-NUS medical school at 8 College Road in Singapore. Photo: Facebook

A Mexican residing in Singapore has been arrested in the United States on suspicion of working as a covert Russian agent, the U.S. Department of Justice announced today. 

Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes had rented a property in Miami, Florida, and was tracking a someone described as a “U.S. government source” at Moscow’s behest, the department said in its announcement. It said Fuentes had been recruited by an unnamed “Russian government official” and traveled to Moscow earlier this month to receive instructions.

“The Russian official told Fuentes not to rent the apartment in Fuentes’s own name and not to tell his family about their meetings,” the statement said. “Fuentes traveled to Russia and informed the Russian government official about the arrangements. The official approved and told Fuentes to see him again on his next trip to Russia.”

He reportedly confessed Sunday after being stopped at Miami International Airport, where he was about to fly to Mexico. Officers found evidence on his phone that he had been tracking the individual as instructed. 

“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,” the department said.

Fuentes was charged with acting within the United States as an unregistered foreign agent.

A LinkedIn profile for a Hector Alejandro Cabrera-Fuentes lists him as president of the Mexican Global Network in Singapore since 2016. It indicates that he earned a degree in microbiology from the Kazan Federal University in Russia in 2009.

Fuentes was employed by the National Heart Centre in Singapore as a Senior Research Fellow and holds a joint appointment at Duke-NUS, the medical school’s spokesperson Dharshini Subbiah said.  “All of his appointments have been suspended pending the ongoing investigations in the US,” she said in reply to an inquiry.

In a nomination letter to a heart research committee, a Hector A. Cabrera-Fuentes describes himself as a 34-year-old born in Oaxaca, Mexico. It says he’s a visiting scientist at Duke-NUS’s Graduate Medical School, which lists him as an assistant professor in its Cardiovascular Sciences Academic Clinical Programme.

The Americans accuse Fuentes of working for the Russians since last year, when he was sent to Miami and told him to locate the individual’s car and obtain its license plate number. 

On Thursday, he allegedly drove from Mexico City to Miami in a rented car with his wife. He was spotted by a security entering the location where the unnamed “source” lived by tailgating another vehicle into the premises. 

When approached by the security guard, the wife walked to the vehicle they were tracking and took a photo of its license plate before the two left. 

That photo was found in a “recently deleted folder” of her phone Sunday at the airport by a Customs and Border Protection officer.

“When asked about the photo, Fuentes admitted tasking his travel companion to take the photo of the vehicle’s license plate. CBP’s review of Fuentes’s phone revealed a WhatsApp message from his travel companion sent to Fuentes with the same photograph of the vehicle license plate,” the press release said.

A pre-trial detention hearing is set for Friday.

More news from the Little Red Dot at Coconuts.co/Singapore.

Update Feb. 20: This story was updated with additional information from Duke-NUS.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed a statement to National University of Singapore when it in fact came from a Duke-NUS spokesperson.

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