US Authorities Accuse Russian and Venezuelan Nationals of Smuggling Oil and Evading Sanctions with Crypto

US Authorities accuse five Russians of selling oil through a Russian-Venezuelan network to customers in China and Russia while using cryptocurrency to get around financial restrictions. Tether was reportedly used by defendants to launder “millions of dollars.”

Five Russian nationals are accused by federal prosecutors of laundering “millions of dollars” in cryptocurrencies as part of a plot to transport oil and military equipment.

Timofey Telegin, Sergey Tulyakov, Yury Orekhov, Artem Uss, Svetlana Kuzurgasheva, also known as “Lana Neumann,” and Svetlana Kuzurgasheva are accused of seeking to get around sanctions on Venezuelan oil companies and gaining technology for the American F-22 air superiority aircraft.

Although a press release from the Department of Justice did not identify the quantities or kinds of cryptocurrencies utilized, the defendants are accused of using shell businesses and cryptocurrencies to launder the money used in this scam.

A later-released indictment claimed the defendants used the tether stablecoin to conduct a transaction. According to the press announcement, defendants Orekhov and Uss were detained on Monday. Task Force KleptoCapture, a DOJ operation focused on economic penalties and retaliation against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, filed the allegations.

The defendants “were criminal enablers for oligarchs, orchestrating a complex scheme to unlawfully obtain U.S. military technology and Venezuelan sanctioned oil through a myriad of transactions involving shell companies and cryptocurrency,” according to U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York.

US Authorities Expect to Extradite the Defendants

The defendants, according to Breon Peace, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, staged “a complicated conspiracy to illegally acquire U.S. military technology and Venezuelan sanctioned oil” using front businesses and cryptocurrency.

For his part, Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director in charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), praised the efforts made by the law enforcement officers to dismantle a “sophisticated network” that at least five Russian and two Venezuelan citizens had put together.

To facilitate extradition procedures at the request of the United States, Orekhov and Uss are being detained in Germany and Italy, respectively. The defendants may spend up to 30 years in jail in the United States if found guilty.