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6 arrested, 11 charged in schemes to smuggle U.S. military tech to Russia

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice press conference, June 25, 2021. (Department of Justice/Released)
November 03, 2022

The U.S. has arrested six foreign nationals, and charged five more, in two alleged schemes to smuggle military technology into Russia, including a machine that could be used in creating nuclear weapons.

Two Russian nationals were arrested in one alleged scheme, while three Latvians and one Ukrainian were arrested in another, the Justice Department announced.

Both cases were coordinated with DOJ’s Task Force KleptoCapture, an interagency group assigned to enforce sanctions placed on Russia amid its Ukraine invasion.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the charges “reveal two separate global schemes to violate U.S. export and sanctions laws, including by … attempting to reexport a machine system with potential application in nuclear proliferation and defense programs to Russia.”

“Our investigators and prosecutors will be relentless in their efforts to identify, locate, and bring to justice those whose illegal acts undermine the rule of law and enable the Russian regime to continue its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” Garland said.

In the first case, three Russians allegedly operated a group of shell companies that smuggled advanced chips used by the U.S. military to sanctioned buyers in Russia. The shell companies also allegedly smuggled hundreds of millions of sanctioned Venezuelan oil barrels to Russia and China.

The company’s transactions, often conducted with U.S. dollars through U.S. banks, led banks to process tens of millions of dollars in transactions that violated sanctions and other laws, the DOJ announced.

Some electronic components traded through the scheme have been found in Russian equipment seized on Ukrainian battlefields, according to the DOJ.

One of the arrested Russians, Artem Uss, is the son of the governor of one of Russia’s largest regions, the Krasnoyarsk Krai, according to the DOJ.

In the other case, multiple foreign nationals are accused of smuggling into Russia an American-manufactured “jig grinder,” a high-precision grinding machine useful in nuclear proliferation and defense programs.

A license was required to export the machine to Russia, but the defendants allegedly did not apply for one. U.S. and Latvian authorities intercepted the jig grinder in Riga, Latvia’s capital, ahead of its shipment on to Russia.

Three more Russian nationals and two Venezuelans were charged in the first scheme, but apparently remain at large. In the second case, two European companies were also charged with conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering.