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Feds collar suspected sanctions-busting Russian smugglers of US tech

Three Russian nationals were arrested in New York yesterday on charges of moving electronics components worth millions to sanctioned entities in Russia, pieces of which were later recovered on battlefields in Ukraine.

Nikolay Goltsev, a Russian-Tajikistani dual citizen residing in Brooklyn, along with Salimdzhon Nasriddinov and Kristina Puzyreva, both Russian-Canadians, have been charged with wire fraud, smuggling, and conspiracy to violate the Export Control Reform Act over the course of the past year. 

“As alleged, the defendants evaded sanctions, shipping equipment to Russia vital for their precision-guided weapons systems, some of which has been used on the battlefield in Ukraine,” Breon Peace, US District Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said of the arrests.

While only operating from roughly January 2022 until their apprehension yesterday, the trio managed to send some 300 shipments through SH Brothers Inc. and SN Electronics Inc., a pair of front companies spun up for use in the alleged conspiracy. Valued at more than $10 million, the shipped components included semiconductors, integrated circuits, and other electronics components with dual civilian and military uses.

The three directed shipments to Turkey, Hong Kong, India, China, and the UAE before packages were rerouted to Russia, law enforcement charged in an indictment [PDF] unsealed yesterday.

Components “with the same make, model and part number shipped by defendants … have been found in seized Russian weapons platforms and signals intelligence equipment in Ukraine,” the government alleged. Misappropriated US-made parts were found in Russian radio reconnaissance equipment, electronic warfare kits, guided missiles and counter-missile systems, helicopters, UAVs, and tanks, the feds claim.

The US Department of Commerce considers many of the components shipped by the trio to be “of the highest concern due to their critical role in the production of advanced Russian precision-guided weapons systems, Russia’s lack of domestic production, and limited global manufacturers.”

Russian entities receiving the goods included Radioavtomtika, a Moscow defense procurement firm specializing in procuring foreign-made parts for the Russian military, electronics distributor Testkomplekt, and electronics supplier EKB-Neva, all three of which are on the US’s specially designated nationals list that bars them from doing any business in or with the US.

“Russian companies that sought to acquire particular parts or items from the United States were relayed to Goltsev,” the indictment alleges.

Per the indictment, the three were well aware that what they were doing was illegal and the parts had military applications. Messages exchanged between Nasriddinov and Goltsev included in the indictment mention the pair being aware of increased scrutiny of shipments of the parts they were smuggling because “Ukrainians alleged that they’re being bombed from parts” made by a US manufacturer they had purchased and shipped parts from.

“In the future we will need to load from several companies, not to attract attention … for now large packages will be dangerous until we understand what they figured out,” Goltsev allegedly told Nasriddinov.

Yesterday’s arrests are another in a string of similar cases this year. According to reports from earlier this year, illegal shipments of high-end technology to Russia have spiked since sanctions were imposed in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. ®