A criminal complaint was unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging Dr. Nikolaos “Nikos” Bogonikolos with wire fraud conspiracy and smuggling. Bogonikolos, a Greek national, was arrested in Paris, France on May 9, 2023 and remains in custody pending the resolution of extradition proceedings.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), Jonathan Carson, Special Agent-in-Charge, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), Office of Export Enforcement, New York Field Office announced the charges.
“As alleged, while ostensibly operating as a defense contractor for NATO and other ally countries, the defendant and his Aratos Group were double dealing, helping to fuel Russia’s war effort and their development of next generation weapons,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “Our Office continues to work tirelessly to ensure that disruptive technologies do not fall into the wrong hands.”
Mr. Peace thanked the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs for their assistance in this case, the FBI’s Legal Attaché offices in Paris and the Netherlands, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Attaché office in Paris for their assistance in this case. The United States thanks the French and Dutch authorities for their assistance.
“These charges demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to preventing sensitive technology from falling into the hands of foreign adversaries, including Russia, China, and Iran,” said Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “We will not tolerate those who would violate U.S. laws to allow authoritarian regimes and other hostile nations to use advanced technology to threaten U.S. national security and undermine democratic values around the world.”
“As alleged, Bogonikolos conspired with a network of companies orchestrated by the Russian intelligence services to fraudulently acquire and then smuggle U.S.-origin military and dual-use technologies to aid the Russian defense and security sectors. Bogonikolos procured sensitive equipment meeting NATO specifications designed for tactical battlefield conditions as well as components with applications in space-based and cryptographic communications, on behalf of his Russian intelligence handlers seeking to improve their country’s warfighting capabilities. This case highlights the FBI’s commitment to keeping critical technologies away from America’s adversaries, and dismantling the criminal networks complicit in Russia’s war of aggression,” stated FBI Assistant Director in Charge Driscoll.
“As alleged, the defendant and his company not only violated US law, but further assisted Russia’s illegal war of aggression to include the development of disruptive technologies,” stated BIS Special Agent-in-Charge Carson. “BIS’s Office of Export Enforcement, working with our Strike Force partners, will continue to aggressively investigate export violations and bring violators to justice wherever-located-worldwide.”
As alleged in the complaint, the defendant headed the Aratos Group (Aratos), a collection of defense and technology companies in the Netherlands and Greece, which are both member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). According to Aratos’ website, the companies’ areas of expertise included “Space Technologies,” “Homeland Security,” “Blockchain,” and “Counter-Drone Systems.”
One of Aratos’ subsidiaries, Aratos Systems BV, was a finalist in the NATO Innovation Challenge for space applications in 2021 for a proposal involving the use of artificial intelligence and blockchain technology for satellites and spacecraft. In the proposal, the defendant represented that he had experience advising the European Parliament and “governments worldwide,” and that Aratos had supplied defense equipment and related technologies to countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
However as alleged in the complaint, since 2017 the defendant has been involved in smuggling U.S.-origin military and dual-use technologies to Russia in violation of U.S. law. These highly regulated and sensitive components included advanced electronics and sophisticated testing equipment used in military applications, including quantum cryptography and nuclear weapons testing, as well as tactical battlefield equipment. The defendant claimed that these items were to be used by Aratos, when in reality they were illegally reshipped and sent to Russia. Some of the Russian end users included nuclear and quantum research facilities, as well as “Military Unit 33949,” which is part of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known as the “SVR.” As described in the complaint, many of these orders were solicited by Serniya Engineering and Sertal LLC (the “Serniya Network”), Moscow-based companies that operate under the direction of Russian intelligence services. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Department of Commerce (DOC) Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) levied sanctions against Serniya, Sertal, and several individuals and companies used in the scheme, calling them “instrumental to the Russian Federation’s war machine.”
As alleged in the complaint, the defendant was recruited as a procurement agent for Russia in and around 2017. In an email message with a Serniya affiliate, on December 27, 2017, the defendant was told to come to Moscow alone “since the agenda will be a very sensitive one.” Regarding one subsequent order, the defendant advised that he would falsify an export license, saying “I sign that the items are only for Netherlands; . . . Sensitive case . . . For the same reason I cannot press the [U.S.] supplier.” The defendant also signed false end use statements and provided them to U.S. companies, certifying that Aratos was the end user of the requested items, that Aratos would not reexport the goods elsewhere, and that the goods would not be used for weapons development.
The charges in the complaint are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s National Security and Cybercrime Section. Assistant United States Attorney Artie McConnell is in charge of the prosecution, along with Trial Attorney Scott A. Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, with assistance from Litigation Analyst Ben Richmond.