A naturalized US citizen, accused of being a Russian agent, and six others charged in an alleged plot to ship high-tech microelectronics to the Russian military and intelligence agencies, appeared in a Houston federal courtroom on Thursday to hear the charges against them.
“Those are fairly dramatic allegations that we will certainly take a hard look at to see if there is any evidence to support them. We are going to take the charges very seriously and examine the charges very critically,” said Eric Reed, the attorney for the alleged ringleader Alexander Fishenko.
The defendants did not enter pleas and US Magistrate Judge Mary Millioy ordered them to be held pending further developments in the case, the Houston Chronicle reported.
More information that the government says it has about the defendants could become public during bond hearings scheduled for Friday.
Fishenko, who owns Texas-based Arc Electronics and other companies linked to the charges, along with ten others, were accused of being members of a “Russian military procurement network operating in the United States and Russia,” according to an indictment unsealed on Wednesday.
Eight suspects were arrested in Houston and three suspects are still at-large and believed to be outside the US. The charges include illegally exporting technology, money laundering and obstruction of justice.
Fishenko, who was born in the former Soviet Union in what is now Kazakhstan and became a US citizen in 2003, is also charged with being an unregistered foreign agent of the Russian government.
The alleged smuggling operation supposedly shipped $50 million worth of microelectronics commonly used in a wide-range of military systems to Russia.
Authorities say that when he applied to live in the US, Fishenko claimed to have no military service, but has since said he served in a Soviet intelligence unit in the 1980s, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The indictment charges that the technology exported should have been “subject to strict government controls due to their potential use in a wide range of military systems, including radar and surveillance systems, weapons guidance systems and detonation triggers.”
US prosecutors argue that the 46-year-old Fishenko and his co-conspirators went to great lengths to cover up their illegal activity by saying Arc Electronics was a manufacturer of traffic lights.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the defendants are not connected to Russian intelligence services and noted they had not been charged with espionage.
If convicted, the defendants could face up to 65 years in a US federal prison. Fishenko faces an additional 30 years for conspiracy to commit money laundering while acting as an unregistered agent for the Russian government.