U.S. authorities bust ring smuggling electronics to Russia

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Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Federal authorities in New York said they have busted an international smuggling ring that used airline passengers and employees to illegally ship tens of millions of dollars worth of stolen Apple devices to Russia.

In a federal court in Brooklyn on Monday, prosecutors unsealed an indictment and complaint charging 10 people for participating in the ring to smuggle more than $50 million worth of electronic devices, the majority being stolen Apple products, to Russia using current and former employees of Aeroflot Airlines as couriers.

Of those charged, eight were arrested and named by the Justice Department while two others were labeled as fugitives and their identities were withheld.

"With today's arrests, the network has been disabled thanks to the outstanding work of the Eastern District of New York prosecutors who worked tirelessly alongside our agency partners to closely scrutinize the goods and individuals that transit our international borders," said Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Seth DuCharme.

As a result of the multi-agency investigation, the State Department has revoked 113 visas for Aeroflot employees for participating in the ring.

UPI has contacted Aeroflot for comment.

According to the indictment, the scheme began in January 2018 and ran until September and consisted of the defendants smuggling cash and the Apple products via Aeroflot employees and passengers to Russia.

Prosecutors have accused one of the defendants, 46-year-old Sayuz Daibagya of Moscow, of giving instructions to Aeroflot crew members and others to travel to the United States where Brooklyn residents Akmal Asadov, 38; Kirill Sokhonchuk, 37; Anton Perevozniko, 34; and Marat Shadkhin, 40; had obtained the Apple devices, including iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches, to be sent to Russia without the proper export authorizations.

Daibagya and Shohruh Saidov, 31, occasionally smuggled the devices themselves, the Justice Department alleges, stating between August and December 2019, Daibagay transported some 1,000 Apple products worth more than $1 million to Russia from the United States on four trips. Prosecutors also accuse Saidov of carrying nine suitcases holding 235 Apple products to Russia on Oct. 5, 2019.

Authorities executing search warrants during the defendants' arrests on Monday found more than $600,000 in cash and large amounts of electronic devices, the Justice Department said.

Azamat Bobomurodov, 31, and Zokir Iskanderov, 30, both of Brooklyn, were also charged in the scheme.

"If you believe it is acceptable to exploit positions with a foreign airline to smuggle millions of dollars in illegal goods back to Russia as we allege, the answer is Nyet," said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney. "While this international smuggling ring's activities demonstrate vulnerabilities exist, it also highlights that the combined efforts of federal agents, detectives, analysis and prosecutors are a powerful counter to any threat."

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