Russian “jewelry designer” seduced NATO officers at social parties

A Russian spy posing as a jet set jewelry designer infiltrated NATO’s naval headquarters in Italy by sleeping with officers stationed there, it was revealed yesterday.

The agent – using the false name Maria Adela Kuhfeldt Rivera – became a fixture in society and targeted the Allied Joint Forces Command in Naples, home of the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet.

The spy, real name Olga Kolobova, was a businesswoman and socialite for nearly a decade, forging extensive connections that stretched to Britain and the Middle East.

Glamorous, impeccably dressed and driving an Audi convertible, “Maria Adela” placed herself at the center of Naples’ international party scene.

She was a regular attendee of the annual Nato Ball and the US Marine Corps Ball and even managed to establish herself as the secretary of a local charity affiliated with Nato HQ.

But yesterday Kolobova was exposed as a spy by investigative website Bellingcat, who works for the GRU, the Russian military intelligence unit that tried to assassinate Sergei Skripal by poisoning him with the nerve agent Novichok on the streets of Salisbury in March 2018.

Six months later, believing her cover had been blown, Kolobova bought a one-way plane ticket from Naples to Moscow and retired to Russia. She has never seen her close friends in the west since.

Among them was Marcelle D’Argy Smith, the former editor of the women’s magazine Cosmopolitanwith whom Kolobova became friends in 2010 in Malta, where the journalist had an apartment.

Yesterday Ms D’Argy Smith came to terms with Bellingcat’s revelation that the younger woman, whom she believed to be a “niece”, was actually an agent working for Vladimir Putin.

Kolobova had told Ms. D’Argy Smith (70) that she was born in Peru in 1978 to the love of a German father and a Peruvian mother, but was amazingly abandoned in the Soviet Union in 1980. Her mother had attended the Moscow Olympics and then left her there to be adopted by Russian foster parents.

Her money, Kolobova explained, came from a wealthy married Russian with whom she was having an affair and who had died leaving her an inheritance.

According to Bellingcat, the GRU created the person Maria Adela in Peru and attempted to register her as a citizen with a date of birth of September 1, 1978. In fact, Kolobova was born in 1982, the daughter of a Russian military colonel suspected of being a senior GRU officer.

“I have no interest in spies; I don’t care about James Bond movies,” said Ms D’Argy Smith, who was visibly shaken by the revelation after helping Bellingcat with his investigation. “But we were such good friends. She was like a goddaughter or a niece. It was annoying to find out.

“She had many male friends but they never seemed worthy. She was so attractive and men looked ordinary and I never understood it.”

From Malta Kolobova moved to Ostia, just outside Rome. She traveled all over Europe, taking the train from Moscow to Paris via Belarus and traveling on what later turned out to be a fake passport, issued by the GRU.

In 2011 she founded her first jewelery shop in Paris under the brand name Serein. Bellingcat believes this was the “probable seed phase” of the GRU’s long-term plan to use its fortune as a “socialite and businesswoman.”

A year later, Kolobova secretly married an Italian with Russian and Ecuadorian passports. Photos from the wedding were sent to Mrs D’Argy Smith.

But within 12 months, the husband died in Moscow at the age of 30, registered on July 13, 2013, and – the death certificate listed double pneumonia and lupus, a potentially debilitating disease but which affects women more than men.

After the wedding, Kolobova returned to Italy, established her jewelry company Serein SRL, and billed herself as a jewelry and luxury goods retailer.

Later that year, she flew to Bahrain, and a post on Facebook featured her meeting with HRH Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the country’s prime minister at the time.

There were also trips to Britain, and once Kolobova stayed with a prominent British family at their mansion. One branch of the family was a serious donor to the Conservative Party, although British intelligence is known not to believe she was ever active in Britain.

By 2015, Kolobova had moved into a large apartment overlooking the Bay of Naples in one of the city’s more “swanky” zip codes. ”

Kolobova opened a boutique in Naples selling her branded Serein jewelry. The website claimed it was bespoke and “made in Napoli”. According to Bellingcat, the jewelry was actually cheap stuff bought from Chinese wholesalers and was just as fraudulent as the woman who sold it. Ms D’Argy Smith described the facility as “amateurish”.

In the same year Kolobova became secretary of the charity Lions Club Napoli Monte Nuovo, which was initially founded by a NATO officer as a branch of the Lions Club. The energetic and dedicated GRU officer even offered to pay membership fees to encourage membership and increase numbers.

Through the club, the spy, who spoke fluent Italian and English with a discernible Russian accent, “became friends with a number of NATO officers.” One of them, who could not be identified, admitted to Bellingcat that he had a “brief romantic relationship” with her. In an email to Ms D’Arcy Smith, she wrote that a US Navy employee who was a photographer had “a little crush on her”.

Another NATO employee who is said to be “close” to her worked in data systems. NATO declined to comment on intelligence matters.

The spy also befriended Colonel Sheila Bryant, then Inspector General of the US Naval Forces Europe and Africa. Ms Bryant told Bellingcat that she found Maria Adela’s backstory “confusing and unconvincing”. and asked: “Why would anyone leave their child in the Soviet Union?”

Colonel Bryant was also confused about the source of her wealth and as a result kept communicating on “social interaction” topics where Maria Adela usually discussed her “emotional issues with men”.

During this time, the spy received invitations to all sorts of NATO or US military events, including balls and fundraisers. NATO employees also came to the jewelry store and bought goods there.

In the wake of the Skripal poisoning, the GRU’s operations had been exposed, its machinations exposed through work by MI5, MI6, GCHQ and foreign intelligence agencies. Within six months, the British authorities had a pretty good grip on the GRU’s overseas operations, both in Britain and across Europe. Kolobova made a hasty exit.

Over the next three years, she stayed in touch with her friends. As recently as December, she sent Ms D’Argy Smith a message on WhatsApp which read: “Dearest, dearest Marcelle!. There is [a] lots of things I can’t (and never be able to) explain! But I miss you very much…”

The news was apparently heartfelt, so close had the spy come to a confession in the decade that the Russian agent and the former Cosmo editor had been friends. “I don’t feel betrayed by her,” says Ms. D’Argy Smith. “She’s very resilient, very smart and a lateral thinker, but I’ve seen her in tears one too many times. There was a vulnerability, although it never became her downfall.” (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Russian “jewelry designer” seduced NATO officers at social parties

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