Russian citizen charged over exports to North Korea

The U.S. Government has indicted a Russian citizen over exports of sensitive technology to North Korea. Ilya Balakaev is chief executive officer of Radiotester LLC, a Moscow-based company that repairs radio equipment, and the recently unsealed indictment alleges he exported a handheld gas monitor to North Korea.

The charge is alongside a larger scheme to export sensitive radio detection equipment from the U.S. to the Russian government. In total, the indictment charges him with five counts, including smuggling, fraud and violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Export Control Reform Act.

On the North Korean scheme, Balakaev is alleged to have conspired with the first secretary to the DPRK mission in Moscow to obtain on behalf of North Korea an Altair 4X handheld gas detector. The gas detector is produced by MSA, a U.S. company, and a license is required for its export. It is designed for use in mines and can detect oxygen, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide levels and alert to potentially explosive levels of gas, according to MSA.

The North Korean official first contacted Balakaev in 2019, and the two met multiple times at the North Korean embassy, according to the indictment. Balakaev previously worked at the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Culture, and it was through that job that he traveled to North Korea and made contacts there. The U.S. says it was at one of those meetings that the embassy official asked Balakaev to obtain the gas detector on behalf of the North Korean government.

The detector was purchased online in December 2019 and shipped to an address in Richmond, Virginia, and Balakaev traveled to the U.S. in February 2020 to pick it up. At the same time, the North Korean official sent an image of a broken CD labeled “Altair 4XR Multigas Detector.” Balakaev replied to the email promising a link to download the software, and the North Korean official responded that “a flash drive would be better” and he wanted “the original without any viruses,” according to the indictment. The two arranged to meet in March 2020 to hand over the detector, it said.

Balakaev is not in U.S. custody. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 75 years’ imprisonment.

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