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Airline employees charged in $50M Apple product smuggling scheme

October 21, 2020 Editorial Staff
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Ten defendants, including seven from Brooklyn, were charged Tuesday in Brooklyn Federal Court with participating in the illegal smuggling of electronic devices, particularly Apple products, from the U.S. to Russia using couriers, some of whom were former or current Aeroflot Airlines employees.

Akmal Asadov, Sayuz Daibagya, Anton Perevoznikov, Shohruh Saidov, Marat Shadkhin, Kirill Sokhonchuk and Zokir Iskanderov were arrested Tuesday and were arraigned via teleconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon. Azamat Bobomurodov was arrested in the Northern District of Illinois and was arraigned there. Two additional defendants are fugitives.

The defendants allegedly engaged in a scheme to export more than $50 million worth of electronic devices, including Apple iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches, from the United States to Russia. After receiving instructions from Daibagya, a resident of Russia, Aeroflot crew members and others traveled to the U.S. to pick up the electronic devices.

Asadov, Sokhonchuk, Perevoznikov and Shadkhin, together with others in the United States, had obtained the devices, many of which had been stolen, to be sent to Russia without the required export authorizations, according to the indictment. During the investigation, searches of luggage belonging to various Aeroflot crew members and other couriers revealed millions of dollars of electronic devices.

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Sometimes, Daibagya and Saidov smuggled the devices themselves. For example, between August and December 2019, Daibagya took four trips from the United States transporting more than 1,000 Apple products valued at over $1 million, and on Oct. 5, 2019, Saidov carried nine suitcases containing 235 Apple products with a total estimated value of about $250,000.

As a result of the investigation, the State Department has revoked approximately 113 visas of Aeroflot employees for their participation in their scheme, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Search warrants executed at the time of the defendants’ arrest revealed over $600,000 in cash, including some hidden in the crawl space of Shadkhin’s home, and large numbers of electronic devices.

All in all, the defendants were charged with transportation of stolen property, failure to file export information, illegal exportation of electronic devices and conspiracy to commit these offenses.

“As alleged, the defendants were members of an international smuggling ring that used a network of operators here and in Russia to circumvent U.S. export laws and regulations,” stated Acting United States Attorney Seth DuCharme. “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.”

“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,” added FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William E. Sweeney.

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