The inside story on Russian spy’s life at Trinity College: a quiet guy who ‘avoided anyone who could blow his cover’
Victor Muller was a quiet, friendly Brazilian politics student who went gently about his way. But looking back, there were red flags.
Sergey is now in custody in Brazil, having been exposed by Dutch intelligence services as he attempted to infiltrate the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Former classmates of Sergey’s who knew him during his student days in Trinity and later at Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC have spoken to the Irish Independent about the “chilled” and “kind” man they knew.
Looking back, all now agree there were oddities about “Victor”, who spoke with a “weird” English accent but had convincing Portuguese and claimed to be a mature student from Brazil.
Friends who spoke Russian and Portuguese say they picked up on a “twang” in his accent and even once probed him about whether he had any Russian ancestry.
But “Victor” easily batted away any questions, explaining he had German ancestry, which was why he had a Germanic name and such white skin.
“He did not look Brazilian,” one former classmate said. “I feel like he avoided anyone who could blow his cover.”
They describe him as “a quiet guy who kept to himself” and who was “very vague” about his time at Trinity.
Another thing that struck classmates was that he didn’t seem to hang out with any Brazilians or indeed seem to know anything about issues affecting the Brazilian community in Ireland. They now believe he deliberately avoided Brazilian students in case they exposed him.
“It’s messed up,” sighs one former friend who said he is still reeling from the shock of discovering he was a Russian spy. “I heard about it yesterday around lunchtime. I was like, WHAT?”
On reflection, his former classmates now agree there were definitely red flags.
One acquaintance said, “I speak Portuguese, and I went to school with Brazilian kids, so it wasn’t hard to identify his accent. It was pretty strong. His (Portuguese) accent was convincing. He had almost perfect Portuguese.
“Did you ever see the film City of Men? If you watch that, you will hear a Brazilian Portuguese speaker. It would give you an idea of the slang he would use. It was mostly quite well-rounded Portuguese.”
Looking back, the former acquaintance feels now, “there are two things that didn’t really fit”.
“I had asked him about Trinity College and what it was like to study there,” they said. “It seemed like he didn’t have many details.
“It’s kind of funny for someone who should know a little more about where to go around Trinity. The general knowledge, he didn’t seem to have much of it.
“The second one was I expected, him being a Brazilian in Dublin, that he would know more about things that affected the Brazilian community.
“One of the things the Irish Government was helping people (Brazilians) out with was if you graduated from any Irish institution and you got a job in Ireland, they would extend your visa. And he didn’t know about that. With the crazy amount of Brazilians in Dublin, I don’t know how he wouldn’t have known that.
“So many articles online said his cover story was going from Germany to Brazil and then naturalising as a Brazilian national: that’s not quite right. I once suggested he naturalise as a German just because he had German roots, and many Brazilians who are German descendants do that. The fact he wouldn’t know about that, there is a mismatch. Lots of Brazilian-Germans I knew had dual citizenship.”
Nothing at the time indicated Victor from Rio De Janeiro was really Sergey from Kaliningrad. But hindsight is 20/20. “He was an open guy. Not hard to talk to and pretty chilled. I had beers with him once, and he was hanging out with a couple of Chinese friends. You wouldn’t have had expected it (him being a spy)”.
Another Trinity alumnus remembers Victor as “a quiet guy who kept to himself – for good reason, as is now apparent”. The former classmate says Victor only attended “the odd lecture” but graduated with the rest of his course, Philosophy, Political Science, Economics and Sociology, in November 2018.
“Despite some sceptical comments I’ve seen online, he really did graduate with a BA degree like the rest of us and was there in person for the ceremony.
“Some of my course-mates made tentative steps to invite him to social events early on, but it was fairly clear he wasn’t there to socialise, which isn’t uncommon for mature students.
“Personally, I didn’t think anything of the mix of the Brazilian nationality with a Germanic name – there were plenty of Germans who travelled to South America in the 1940s. I just presumed he was descended from them.
“I haven’t spoken to Victor since leaving Trinity in 2018, and having chatted with most of them in the last 24 hours, I don’t think any of my course-mates have either.”
By early 2020, the Russian intelligence agent was enrolled in the illustrious Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC.
He and his classmates made a three-week visit to Israel, where a fellow student remembers he wasn’t the kind of person to “highlight” himself.
“We went to school together at Johns Hopkins, which would be one of the top schools for US government and diplomacy, that sort of thing. I didn’t know him very well, but I went on a trip to Israel with him, and we toured around to get an idea of what was happening there.
“There are different programmes within Johns Hopkins, including strategic studies, which had a lot of intel and misinformation classes, but he didn’t really take classes like that. He took a lot of South American classes. And classes about peace.
“I speak Russian, and I thought it was kind of weird his name was Victor.
“I knew what the accent (Russian) sounded like, and he said he was from Brazil, but he kind of had that weird twang. There was a clique with the South American students, and he hung around with them. I don’t know if he stayed away from Brazilian students in case they could tell his accent wasn’t real.
“But he talked about his time in Ireland, and I think a lot of people wrote it off as to why his accent was a bit off.
“He didn’t say too much about Ireland either. He mentioned he went to that school (Trinity) and spent time there. But, like I said, he was very vague when he and I spoke about his background.
“I think because I spoke Russian, he kind of avoided getting close to me and other people who were there for the intel part of the school or were in the military.
“I feel like he avoided anyone who could blow his cover. He did not look Brazilian. I asked him some questions because his name is very Russian, and I picked up on the twang in his accent.
“I said, ‘Oh do you have any Russian ancestry?’ And he said he had German ancestry, and that’s probably why he had very white skin.
“Then he kind of changed the subject.
“Looking back at it, that’s what I think. It’s probably the reason I didn’t know him so well. We spent every day together for a few weeks, and I still didn’t know him.
“But he was super nice. As far as his personality goes, he was a very kind guy.
“You know when you talk to someone, he was a compassionate listener. He was friendly to people, just what you would expect of a fellow student.”
Asked what impression he had of Victor, he said: “He was pretty quiet. He went to some of the social events but not a lot of them.
“He hung out with girls, but I didn’t know of him dating anyone specifically.
“You go to schools like Johns Hopkins because you want to make the world a better place. And then you have someone like that who is infiltrating. I never got the impression he was trying to collect (information) from me, but he could have tried.
“I just got the impression he was just another student trying to learn. It kind of makes me wonder what is his situation. Do we know the real story with him?
“It’s like a movie.
“DC has spies. That’s the place, and if someone wants to get into that inner circle, they will go to schools like Johns Hopkins and Georgetown, so it’s not very surprising. But it is surprising when it is somebody you know.”
The former classmate discovered the quiet but odd Victor was a spy on an alumni messaging group.
“As soon as the story broke, everyone was talking about it.
“It’s hard to know what motivated him.
“Coming from Russia, they are very stifled, so he probably felt lucky to be able to go to all these different countries and get stuff paid for.
“He was able to go to school and party in Brazil and then go to Ireland. He went to all these places the average person could not in Russia.”