WASHINGTON (CNN) — The United States has charged 11 people with illegally exporting U.S. microelectronics to Russia for use by the military and intelligence agencies.
Seven suspects were arrested Wednesday in the Houston area, including Alexander Fishenko, a naturalized American citizen born in Russia. He also is accused of acting on behalf of the Russian government without registering as a foreign agent.
Another suspect, Alexander Posobilov, also a naturalized U.S. citizen, was arrested Tuesday night at George Bush International Airport in Houston. Authorities say he was headed to Singapore and Moscow.
Three other people allegedly involved in the procurement ring are believed to be at large in Russia.
Fishenko, 46, allegedly used his Houston-based business Arc Electronics Inc. to export items that are supposed to be under strict government control because of their potential military use in radar and surveillance systems, weapons guidance systems and detonation triggers.
But Russia's Foreign Ministry downplayed the allegations.
"The accusations conveyed to us by the U.S. side are criminal; they have nothing to do with intelligence," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday. "There are lots of uncertainties in this situation, which naturally causes our profound concern."
Consular meetings have been held or will be held with the suspects, he said.
The microelectronics sent to Russia included analog-to-digital converters, digital signal processors and static random access memory chips. "These advanced microelectronics could not be produced in Russia," according to the indictment.
Prosecutors say Fishenko also is a part owner of Moscow-based Apex System LLC, which is a certified supplier of military equipment to the Russians.
Both Arc and Apex are charged with illegal activity along with the 11 individuals in an indictment unsealed Wednesday.
Prosecutors allege Fishenko and the other defendants hid the fact they were exporters and pretended Arc Electronics produced mundane items such as traffic lights.
According to court documents, the participants in the alleged scheme told other Russian procurement companies to hide the materials they were receiving from Arc. Fishenko allegedly told one company, "Make it up pretty, correctly and make sure it looks good."
Posobilov, the director of procurement for Arc, allegedly told a business to alter a certificate about the end use of a shipment to indicate the materials were for "fishing boats, and not fishing/anti-submarine ones."
Prosecutors say Arc has exported approximately $50 million worth of microelectronics and other technology to Russia since 2002. It is not clear how much of that was illegal, but court documents said the illegal activity began in late 2008.
"While some countries may leverage our technology for financial gain, many countries hostile to the United States seek to improve their defense capabilities and to modernize their weapons systems at the expense of U.S. taxpayers," said Stephen Morris, the FBI's special agent in charge of the Houston office.
The eight suspects arrested in the Houston area were scheduled to have court appearances Wednesday.
The charges against various members of the group include violating the Arms Export Control Act and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, conspiracy, attempted money laundering, obstruction of justice and acting as an unregistered agent for the Russian government.
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