A former chef of a Russian restaurant chain who was arrested in 2020 in a high-speed chase is a suspected spy, according to a five-year investigation by US investigative TV program 60 Minutes, German magazine Der Spiegel, and The Insider.

At the time of Vitalii Kovalev’s arrest, “police discovered bank account notes, a device used to erase a car’s computer data, and a Russian passport,” The Washington magazine wrote on April 1.

A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent who was investigating Kovalev had suffered mysterious brain injuries during her probe of Kovalev.

Kovalev had been the executive chef of Mari Vanna in Washington before being arrested in 2020. Bulgarian investigative journalist Christo Grozev discovered that Kovalev had studied radio electronics at a military institute in Russia before he became a chef in the US.


“He had all the technology know-how that would be required for somebody to be assisting an operation that requires high technology,” Grozev told 60 Minutes.

The alleged spy became a chef of the DC location of the restaurant in 2013 when it opened its doors. It also has a venue in Moscow and one that still operates in Manhattan, New York, the Kyiv Post learned. Its locations in Miami and Los Angeles are permanently closed.

Kovalev spent 30 months in jail for evading police in a high-speed car chase in Florida and then returned to Russia in 2022 upon his release, Grozev said, adding that documents have come to light that Kovalev had been sent to fight in Ukraine after his return, where he died in February 2023.

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The so-called Havana Syndrome investigation, of which the journalist was a part, concluded that an elite assassination unit of Russia’s defense intelligence was behind the neurological attacks, some of which caused severe brain damage to US government officials.

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