Guilty plea in scheme to supply US-made military tech to Russia

A Russian national has pleaded guilty in New York to charges that he secretly supplied Russia with massive quantities of American-made military technology after the war on Ukraine started.

Maxim Marchenko, 51, copped Thursday to one count of money laundering and one count of smuggling goods at a hearing in White Plains federal court, admitting he arranged to sneak the military-grade electronics out of the U.S. via Hong Kong through a complex web of shell companies to hide their true destination from distributors. He also agreed to forfeit more than $1.3 million.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said the tech Marchenko siphoned to Russia could be used to fashion rifle scopes, night-vision goggles, thermal optics and other sensitive weapons systems.

Marchenko set up his confessed scheme after the products became prohibited for sale to Russia in 2022. That year, the U.S. and other Western nations expanded sanctions against Russia in response to its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

“For many years before then, it was entirely permissible for these components to be sent to Russia,” Marchenko’s lawyer, Kerry Lawrence said.

“He has a lifetime of honest hard work and is looking forward to getting back to Russia as soon as possible,” the attorney added.

The feds arrested Marchenko in September 2023, hitting him with a litany of charges for the elaborate scheme they said he carried out with two unnamed co-conspirators between May 2022 and last August. Authorities say his primary role was maintaining the shell companies in Hong Kong.

Court docs detail how the trio misled American distributors by saying the purchases were intended for medical research in Hong Kong, China and other nations — not including Russia — so government agencies they were required to report the transactions to would be none the wiser.

The dual-use technology they smuggled — OLED micro-displays — can be used for veterinary imaging, digital cameras and video games, but can also “contribute to the military potential of other nations or be detrimental to United States foreign policy or national security,” according to FBI records in Marchenko’s case.

The feds say Marchenko and his associates funneled at least $1.6 million to the U.S. and arranged to smuggle many microelectronics to Russia via a Hong Kong-based freight forwarding service.

Marchenko is expected to be sentenced on Jun. 6.

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