Feds charge Russian national with smuggling counterintelligence equipment to Moscow, North Korea

A Moscow resident was charged with supplying Russia and North Korea with US counterintelligence technology capable of scanning a room to determine if it was bugged and securely transmitting information, authorities said Friday.

Federal prosecutors said Ilya Balakaev, a Russian businessman with government ties, smuggled spy equipment he purchased in the US and shipped it to government outposts in Russia and North Korea.

According to an indictment, Balakaev bought and repaired electronic spectrum analyzers, signal generators and gas detection equipment that can be used in sensitive foreign counterintelligence and military operations.

Federal officials said he purchased the devices over the Internet or directly from the US companies that made them, and had them shipped to a home in Richmond, Va. From there, the indictment said, he would bring the devices to Russia or have them shipped there.

Balakaev also traveled to the US about 14 times since 2017 and bought 43 gadgets for Russia’s intelligence agency, the indictment said.

He also provided US technology to a North Korean government official, in violation of US sanctions against North Korea, authorities said.

Balakaev, 47, contracted with a North Korean embassy official based in Moscow, to obtain hazardous gas detectors and software from the US for the benefit of the North Korean government, federal officials said.

“The defendant violated US law by procuring, smuggling, and repairing counterintelligence operation devices for the benefit of Russia’s secret police and the North Korean government,” said US Attorney Breon Peace. “Today’s indictment demonstrates our office’s commitment to vigorously prosecute those who evade sanctions for a profit, both for their wallet and for Russia as they continue their aggression against Ukraine.”

The indictment against Balakaev was announced on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The defendant allegedly operated schemes to smuggle software and devices from the United States and provide them to hostile foreign government services in violation of US sanctions,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael Driscoll.

The Department of Justice said Balakaev is “currently a fugitive.” If captured and convicted, he faces up to 75 years in prison.

Federal authorities also went after an alleged Russian oligarch, seeking to seize six of his properties in New York and Florida.

The Department of Justice said Viktor Vekselberg is a Russian tycoon whom the US sanctioned in 2018 over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election and again in 2022 over his ties to Putin after the invasion of Ukraine.

Among the targeted properties are an apartment on Park Ave. in Manhattan, an estate in Southampton and a home in Miami Beach. The properties are valued at $75 million.

The Department of Justice has been sought to use asset seizures and criminal charges to pressure business executives with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin to press him to stop the war.

“For as long as it takes, the Department of Justice will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Ukrainian and international partners in defense of justice and the rule of law,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

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