VOICE OF RUSSIA, KOMMERSANT (Russia) HOUSTON PRESS, (US)
MOSCOW - Russian authorities are staying mostly mum since the United States accused 11 people this week, all from countries in the former Soviet Union, of illegal export of high-tech military equipment and money laundering.
Moscow-based daily Kommersant reports that seven of the 11 accused were arrested near Houston, and an additional member of the group of accused was arrested later at the airport. The US is searching for the last three accused, and the US authorities think they are hiding in Russia, Kommersant reports.
The US has said that the leader of the group was a 46-year-old man originally from Kazakhstan named Aleksander Fishenko. Fishenko obtained American citizenship in 2003, but is accused of having lied on his original application for refugee status in the US. More importantly, US authorities say that his electronics company, which brought in more than $50 million since 2002, was used to illegally export to Russia, Kommersant reports.
Following the arrests, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich downplayed the role of espionage in the alleged criminal ring, according to Voice of Russia radio.
"We keep an eagle eye on the situation around a group of individuals, among them Russian citizens," Lukashevich was quoted as saying. "They are charged with illegally exporting microelectronics from the US to Russia. The American side especially mentioned a criminal nature of the accusations that is said are not related to any intelligence activity."
The Houston Press website reported that Fishenko's front company "had a rather elaborate faux operation humming at a nondescript strip mall in southwest Houston."
Igor Khokhlov of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow was quoted as blaming the arrests on presidential campaign politics in the US.
"The Republicans blame Obama for showing a low-key approach toward Russia," Khokhlov was quoted as saying by Voice of Russia.