The US Department of Justice unsealed a 16-count indictment today accusing five Russians, an American citizen, and a lawful permanent US resident of smuggling export-controlled electronics and military ammunition out of the United States for the Russian government.

Among the stuff sneaked out of America were semiconductors that could be used in nuclear and hypersonic weapons and even (gasp!) quantum computers, the DoJ said.

Sniper rifle ammunition was also among the gear allegedly smuggled out.

Of the seven defendants, three are in custody. Alexey Brayman, the lawful permanent US resident; and Vadim Yermolenko, the US citizen, were both apprehended in the United States. Vadim Konoshchenok, suspected of being a colonel in the Russian FSB, was nabbed in Estonia on December 6 and is awaiting extradition to the US. 

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Russian citizens Yevgeniy Grinin, Aleksey Ippolitov, Boris Livshits, and Svetlana Skvortsova remain at large. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the arrests were enough to disrupt the procurement network built between Brayman, Yermolenko and the pair’s Russian contacts. 

How to evade US export sanctions, at least for a while

The scheme, according to prosecutors, involved two Moscow-based companies: Serbia Engineering and Sertal LLC, both of which the DoJ accuses of operating under the direction of Russian intelligence services.

Sertal, in particular, was “licensed to conduct highly sensitive and classified procurement activities” for Russian intelligence forces, the indictment alleges.

According to the DoJ, both firms exist “to procure advanced electronics and sophisticated testing equipment for Russia’s military industrial complex and research and development sector.” That is to say, the businesses would acquire American tech, under orders from Moscow, and funnel that equipment to Russia, it is claimed.

The companies also allegedly operated a vast network of shell companies and bank accounts to hide the Kremlin’s involvement in their acquisitions, of which Brayman and Yermolenko were apparently part. 

“The industries that these illegal transfers could support – quantum computing, hypersonic weapons – pose great danger in the hands of our adversaries,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. 

According to the FBI, Ippolitov received requests for hardware from Russia, which were relayed to Grinin and Skvortsova at Sertal. The pair at Sertal secured funding and planned shipping routes, while Livshits was charged with procuring items from US companies through a collection of shell companies registered in the New York City area, it is said.

Brayman and Yermolenko did the US-based leg work of fabricating documents and invoices, packaging and shipping items to intermediate destinations, where they would then be smuggled into Russia, it is claimed. 

Konoshchenok, the alleged FSB colonel, was based in Estonia and on more than one occasion was stopped at the Estonian-Russian border smuggling items into Russia. Among the items Konoshchenok was known to have transported were “35 different types of semiconductors and other electronic components” that matched an order made by Livshits, the DoJ said. 

“Our office will not rest in its vigorous pursuit of persons who unlawfully procure US technology to be used in furtherance of Russia’s brutal war,” said Breon Peace, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. ®