News / USA

Residents Talk about Neighbor Accused of Spying for Russia

Alleged spy Mikhail Semenko's apartment building in Arlington, Virginia
Alleged spy Mikhail Semenko's apartment building in Arlington, Virginia

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The White House says the arrest of 11 Russians for alleged spying is not a setback to improved relations with Moscow. And Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says he doesn't believe the scandal will hurt ties with the U.S. But the residents of a small apartment building in Arlington, Virginia, outside of Washington, are shaken by the case.

Neighbors expressed concern that one of the alleged spies, Mikhail Semenko, lived among them.  Semenko is one of 11 suspects charged with conspiracy and money laundering in connection to the FBI spy case.

Diego Vasquez lives directly below Semenko. He says Semenko kept to himself.

"He looked like he was bald, a little bit, and maybe like around his forties. And I don't know, [he] looked very out of place," said Vasquez.

Semenko lived here. U.S. court papers describe him as an "illegal," assigned with carrying out a long-term, deep cover assignment in the United States for the Russian foreign intelligence service, SVR.

Days before the Semenko's arrest Sunday, Vasquez says he grew suspicious when he came home and found what looked like a surveillance team parked outside the building.

"I saw black SUVs, like Suburbans, parked outside.  I thought that was kind of weird," added Vasquez.  

Vasquez' brother, Hugo, says he was leaving for work as the FBI swarmed the building.

"I saw all the cops here, I didn't know what was going on," recalled Hugo Vasquez.

Court documents say that Semenko met with an FBI agent posing as a Russian government official on the corner of 10th and H Streets in Washington.  They say the agent gave Semenko $5,000 in cash concealed inside a newspaper.  Later, Semenko allegedly dropped off the money at an undisclosed park in Arlington.  

Reports of Semenko's secret rendezvous frightens neighbor Fernando Castro.

"I don't feel good because I have my children [here]," said Castro.

The neighbors told VOA Semenko was seldom around.  Castro saw him for the first time on the day of his arrest.

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