Kansas Businessman Pleads Guilty in Case Over Illegal Export of Aviation Tech to Russia

This is the second executive from Kansas to plead guilty after being accused of conspiring to commit crimes against the U.S.

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas businessman has pleaded guilty to illegally exporting sensitive aviation technology to Russian companies in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Douglas Edward Robertson, who lives in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, was the second Kansas business executive to plead guilty to charges after being accused of smuggling, money laundering, violating U.S. export regulations, submitting false or misleading information to export regulators and conspiring to commit crimes against the U.S., all for profit.

Their arrests and the arrest of a Latvian associate in March 2023 came as the U.S. ramped up sanctions and financial penalties on Russia over its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Robertson, 56, entered his plea Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree in Kansas City. The judge set his sentencing for Oct. 3. Robertson pleaded guilty to four of the 26 counts against him and could face up to 20 years in prison for either the money laundering or export violations convictions.

According to prosecutors, starting in October 2020, the defendants sought to sell electronics that included threat detection systems and flight, navigation and communications controls, to two Russian aircraft parts distributors, a Russian aircraft repair firm and a Russian aircraft services company.

They sought to hide their unlicensed activities by going through companies and using bank accounts elsewhere, including Armenia, Cyprus, Germany, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the United Arab Emirates.

"Those who seek to profit by illegally selling sophisticated U.S. technology to our adversaries are putting the national security of our country at risk," Robert Wells, the executive assistant director of the FBI's National Security Branch, said in a statement.

One of Robertson's attorneys, Branden Bell, declined to comment when reached Wednesday.

U.S. export controls were meant to limit Russia's access to computer chips and other products needed to equip a modern military. The indictment against Robertson said the electronics he and the other two men sought to export "could make a significant contribution" to another nation's military.

Robertson, a commercial pilot, and Cyril Gregory Buyanovsky, an aviation engineer from Lawrence, operated the KanRus Trading Co. together and worked with Oleg Chistyakov, a Latvian citizen who frequently traveled to the UAE, according to prosecutors.

Buyanovsky pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiring to launder money and one count of conspiring to commit crimes against the U.S., and his sentencing is set for Nov. 14.

In a court filing last month, prosecutors said Chistyakov was arrested in Latvia in March and that a court approved his extradition to the U.S., though he has appealed the decision to Latvia's Supreme Court.

Chistyakov also sent a letter to the court last month, and the English translation describes him as having been under "house arrest" for more than a year.

The letter also said he suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and other medical conditions that could lead to a stroke or heart attack during a long flight. Crabtree noted in a filing Tuesday that he had received a letter from someone saying he is Chistyakov's Latvian attorney, seeking medical accommodations for him.

The indictment charging the three men lists nine exports of aviation electronics to Russian companies from February 2021 through December 2022 and attempts to export electronics once in February 2022 and twice in March 2023.

Prosecutors have said the U.S. government seized $450,000 in electronics blocked from export the day before Buyanovsky and Robertson were arrested.

"Robertson's guilty plea is reflective of the strong evidence gathered against him by federal investigators and the solid case presented by federal prosecutors," Kate E. Brubacher, the chief federal prosecutor in Kansas, said in a statement.

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