Daily Telegraph: The Spy Who Loved Me
When Alex Chapman caught sight of Anna Kushchenko across a crowded dance floor in 2001, he was overtaken by a giddying belief that he would spend the rest of his life with “the most beautiful girl I had ever seen”.
Just five months later, they were married in Moscow where the new Mrs Chapman wore the same white dress which had caught her new husband’s eye the first time he saw her.
Nine years on, and with the four-year marriage over, Mr Chapman, 30, is struggling to make sense of how his love for the glamorous redhead had brought a knock on his door from MI5.
On Wednesday, a Security Service officer visited his home in Bournemouth to question him about his 28-year-old ex-wife, who was arrested in America last weekend on suspicion of being a Kremlin agent.
MI5 wanted to know whether Mrs Chapman, the daughter of a former KGB agent, could have been recruited here, or even spied on Britain during the time she lived in London. The story Mr Chapman told them was of a woman whose personality changed overnight after she began having “secretive” meetings with “Russian friends”.
He described how she had turned her back on her “carefree” bohemian lifestyle and suddenly became obsessed with money and moving to America.
He told The Daily Telegraph of his suspicions that she was being “conditioned” by shadowy contacts at the time their marriage broke down in 2005. “There was such a dramatic change in the way she thought and the way she went about things, I felt I hardly knew her any more,” said public school-educated Mr Chapman.
“It was like someone having a midlife crisis, but in their 20s. She would arrange to go out but when I said I would join her she told me not to bother because they would all be speaking Russian. She was adamant I wasn’t to meet them.
“She had never been materialistic during the years we were together, but in 2005 and 2006 after she started having these meetings with people she referred to as 'Russian friends’, she was transformed into someone with access to a lot of money, boasting about all the influential people she was meeting.”
Mr Chapman, a trainee psychologist, said his wife had confided to him that her domineering father Vasily, 53, had been a senior KGB agent, and he felt “she would do anything for her dad”.
“Whether or not she’s a spy, who can say, but when I read about her being arrested it wasn’t that much of a surprise to be honest,’’ he said. ''It made sense because of all her erratic behaviour, all these high society people she was going on about. When I told my mother she said 'I knew it!’.”
Mr Chapman added: “I don’t think she was working as a spy here but I suspect she had been conditioned towards that end.
“When she was still living in London she fell in with a group of people who had a lot of influence. She would go to film premieres and became arrogant and obnoxious, always going on about powerful people she was meeting.”
Despite divorcing in 2006, the couple remained close friends, and Mr Chapman watched with bemusement as Mrs Chapman achieved overnight success after moving to America.
He said: “She had always said she didn’t like America. She didn’t like their accents and would always imitate them when American TV shows were on. In late 2006 she went back to Russia, and said she was staying there for good, but then all of a sudden she wanted to go to America. She started seeing a very rich American guy who took her to the States and when she came back she said she loved it.
“She said she was going to set up an internet estate agency, selling houses in America to rich Russians, but it went very slowly and she kept telling me it was still in the red.
“Then in 2009 she sent me an email saying she was meeting all these big name City types and in the space of what seemed a few weeks she was employing 50 people and the business was flourishing. Clearly a lot of money had been pumped into the business from somewhere, but I couldn’t work it out.”
The FBI believes that Mrs Chapman had been sent to America to join a spy ring tasked with infiltrating political circles, but Mr Chapman insists the redhead being described as a real-life Bond girl is not the woman he knew when he fell in love in September 2001.
Mrs Chapman — who was born Anna Kushchenko but retains her married name — was an economics student at Moscow University, travelling during her summer holidays when Mr Chapman met her at an underground rave party in London’s Docklands.
“Anna was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen in my life,” he said. “I plucked up some courage and went over to her and said 'I’m sorry, but you’re the most gorgeous girl I’ve ever seen.’ She turned round and looked at me and said 'My God, so are you’. I never expected that, but we got talking and spent the whole night just chatting, until about 7am. People go on about love at first sight and until then I had thought it was a load of rubbish, but as soon as I saw Anna I knew I had to be with her.”
Mr Chapman, who was 21 at the time, was working at a recording studio after leaving his boarding school, Bradfield College in Berkshire, at 16. Anna, who was 19, was due to return to Moscow two days later.
“I went back to work but I just couldn’t stop thinking about her,” said Mr Chapman. “Then she rang me and said she was at a phone box at Victoria station and that she felt the same way. I took her back to my flat and we just talked for hours. When she had to go home the next day there were a lot of tears.” Within weeks Mr Chapman had arranged to visit her in Moscow and when they met again they agreed they could not bear to be apart. “I said to her 'Let’s get married,’ and she said yes. We didn’t tell our parents, we just went off to a register office and did it.
“I hired a dinner suit, which was too big because none of the Russian men were as skinny as me, and she wore the same white dress that she had been wearing that first day I saw her in London. We couldn’t afford rings or anything, and it was all over very quickly.’’
By the time of the wedding in March 2002, Mr Chapman had quit his job in England and quickly found work as a private English tutor, thanks to his new bride.
“The funny thing about Anna was that she always seemed to know exactly where to go and exactly what to do, no matter what the circumstances,” he said.
“I suggested working as an English tutor, so she took me to an obscure building and pinned a notice on the wall and the next day I had 10 phone calls. I couldn’t quite work it out.”
Mr Chapman briefly met his new mother-in-law Irene, a maths teacher, in May 2002 at a family funeral in Anna’s childhood home of Volgograd, where Mrs Kushchenko, 50, took a shine to him and described him as “an angel sent from England”.
But when he met his father-in-law, Vasily, during a delayed honeymoon to Africa in the summer of 2002, he got a rather cooler reception. “Anna’s father paid for us to go on honeymoon to Egypt for two weeks and then to Zimbabwe, where her parents were living,” said Mr Chapman.
“Her dad was scary. He was very concerned about which direction my life was going, how I was going to 'earn my money’. Anna told me he worked as a diplomat for the Russian government. It was only much later that she told me he had been a KGB agent.”
After their honeymoon the couple rented a flat in Stoke Newington, north London, where they set up a charity called Southern Union, enabling Zimbabwean expats to wire money back home at competitive exchange rates. It was financed by a millionaire South African friend of Anna’s father who took commission on the transfers.
For the next two years the Chapmans lived quietly, with Anna shuttling to and from Russia to finish her economics master’s degree, graduating with first class honours in 2004. “Anna was an extremely passionate, caring and loving woman,” said Mr Chapman. “She is also extremely intelligent — she has an IQ of 162 and it showed, because she was able to juggle so many things at once and make them a success.’’
Mr Chapman, who now lives in Bournemouth, Dorset, said he last spoke to his ex-wife four weeks ago but “she seemed distant.” He added: “I thought I knew her but she has taken this path I don’t believe she consciously knew she was going down.
“I believe in my heart there has been some sort of influence on her, some sort of conditioning, then when push came to shove she found herself in a situation she couldn’t get out of.”
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