Aeroflot Employees Charged In $50 Million iPhone Smuggling Scheme

The US department of justice has unsealed documents confirming charges against ten Russian nationals for a $50 million smuggling operation. Several of those charged are current and former employees of Russian airline Aeroflot. The agents investigating the case believe that holding positions within the airline was crucial to the smuggling ring’s success.

Aeroflot boeing 737-800
Several current and former employees of Aeroflot have been arrested for smuggling. Photo: Getty Images

According to the charges, ten people allegedly smuggled cash and over $50 million of electronic devices out of the US over several months. The smuggled devices included iPhones, iPads, and Apple watches. The charges claim that the defendants used their jobs at Russian carrier Aeroflot to smuggle the merchandise without authorization.

The statement from the Department of Justice reads,

“The defendants allegedly participated in the illegal smuggling of electronic devices, particularly Apple products, from the United States to Russia using couriers, many of whom were current and former employees of Aeroflot Airlines.”

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Smuggled in suitcases

Between August and December 2019, one defendant carried over 1,000 Apple products valued at over $1 million, out of the US on Aeroflot flights. On October 5th, 2019, the same man carried nine suitcases to Russia with over $250,000 worth of goods. The investigation, headed by the FBI and including Customs and Border Protection Agency and the New York City Police Department, believe a man named Sayuz Daibagya instructed the Aeroflot crew on how to smuggle devices into Russia.

Aeroflot crew visa revoked
113 Aeroflot crew have had their visas revoked by the US for their part in the smuggling operation. Photo: Aeroflot

In a statement regarding the arrests, Commerce Special Agent-in-Charge Carson said,

The illicit smuggling of goods on commercial aircraft is a serious violation of export control and public safety laws that we take very seriously. We will continue to pursue violators wherever they are, worldwide.

Two of the ten named individuals are not in custody and are at large.

Many of the devices smuggled out of the country are believed to have been stolen and then sold within Russia. Several of those involved also smuggled goods for their own personal use. Reportedly, crew members used their crew privilege to smuggle electronic devices in their luggage. Investigators raided several properties and discovered over $600,000 in cash and multiple devices at the homes of those charged.

Aeroflot, On Time Performance, 2019
So far, the US has only charged individuals, and there is no evidence the airline knew or was involved. Photo: Getty Images

What did Aeroflot Say?

In a comment to Simple Flying, an Aeroflot representative said,

“Aeroflot notes media reports that 10 citizens of countries including the Russian Federation have been charged with illegally exporting electronics from the United States.

None of the 10 published names of those being charged are current or former employees of Aeroflot.

Aeroflot is working with the Russian Embassy in the United States and the Russian General Consulate in New York to clarify the substance of any allegations against the Company and to coordinate any further action.

Airbus, No Orders, February
Earlier this year Aeroflot received its first Airbus A350. Photo: Getty Images

The spokesperson went on to add,

Aeroflot consistently does everything in its power to prevent cross-border offences and economic crime. Previously, the company has worked with law enforcement agencies to identify and thwart attempts to engage its employees in illegal activity similar to what is being alleged in this instance. The company’s response was robust, and included taking legal action.

Work along these lines is and will remain a top priority of Aeroflot’s Economic Security Department.”

What do you make of the situation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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