By Hannah Rabinowitz and Holmes Lybrand
The Justice Department announced charges on Wednesday against nearly a dozen people and two companies in connection with illegal schemes to send military technology to Russia, some of which has allegedly been recovered from battlefields in Ukraine.
The department said in a statement that some of the defendants also tried to send “nuclear proliferation technology” to Russia, but that it was intercepted before it arrived.
“These charges reveal two separate global schemes to violate U.S. export and sanctions laws, including by shipping sensitive military technologies from U.S. manufacturers — including types found in seized Russian weapons platforms in Ukraine — and attempting to reexport a machine system with potential application in nuclear proliferation and defense programs to Russia,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement.
“As I have said, 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.
The indictments are the most recent action law enforcement has taken with the help of the department’s Task Force KleptoCapture, which was announced earlier this year and part of an effort to enforce sanctions against Russian government officials and oligarchs.
The charges were laid out in two separate indictments, which outlined two distinct schemes to move weapons technology and other goods into Russia.
One indictment, filed in New York, accuses five Russian nationals and two oil brokers for Venezuela of setting up a network of shell companies to illegally send US military technology to Russia and millions of barrels of Venezuelan oil to Russian and Chinese buyers, avoiding US sanctions.
In at least one message highlighted by prosecutors, one of the Russian nationals admitted to acting on behalf of a Russian oligarch under US sanctions, allegedly writing the oligarch “is under sanctions as well. That’s why we [are] acting from this company. As fronting.”
To complete the transactions, the defendants falsified shipping documents and ran tens of millions of dollars through bank accounts they had created under fake company names, prosecutors said. One of the defendants allegedly bragged about how easy it was to dupe the banks, saying that there were “no worries…this is the sh*ttiest bank in the Emirates.”
Two of the Russian nationals were arrested abroad and are set to undergo extradition proceedings, the Justice Department said in a statement Wednesday. All seven defendants are facing multiple conspiracy charges. Five of the defendants charged with bank fraud conspiracy linked to the oil smuggling scheme could face more 30 years in prison.
They have not yet entered a formal plea, and attorneys for the defendants have not yet been listed on the public docket.
In a second indictment, in cooperation with Latvian authorities, US officials intercepted a piece of equipment originally manufactured in Connecticut, bound for Russia, that has applications “in nuclear proliferation and defense programs,” according to the Justice Department.
Four individuals — three Latvians and one Ukrainian residing Estonia — face several charges for allegedly conspiring to smuggle the item, a high-precision grinding machine, to individuals in Russia, the Justice Department said.
“The indictment alleges that these defendants attempted to smuggle a high-precision export-controlled item to Russia where it could have been used in nuclear proliferation and Russian defense programs,” US Attorney Vanessa Roberts Avery of the District of Connecticut said in a statement. “The danger created by such conduct is profound.”
According to the Justice Department, the three Latvians were arrested on Tuesday in Latvia while the Ukrainian was detained in June, all at the request of the United States government, which is seeking their extradition. Charging documents have not been unsealed for the case, and it is not yet clear if the defendants have entered a formal plea.
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