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7 Dec, 2023 17:56

Russian businessman responds to $7 million US bounty

No one will get to collect the State Department’s reward, Artyom Uss has said
Russian businessman responds to $7 million US bounty

Entrepreneur Artyom Uss has dismissed the US government’s offer to pay for information leading to his arrest or conviction, saying that charges against him are political in nature and based on fabrications and lies.

On Tuesday, the State Department announced it would pay a bounty of up to $7 million for Uss, under the Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program (TOCRP). The businessman and six others were charged in March with conspiring to evade US sanctions by exporting Venezuelan oil and “military and sensitive dual-use technologies” to Russia.

“Unfortunately for the public, no one will get this bounty, as there are no facts in existence that could prove my guilt,” Uss said on Wednesday in a statement to the Russian outlet RBC.

He added that the US authorities have been perfectly aware of his location since April, but haven’t bothered to contact Russia – using the existing treaties of legal assistance – to either continue his prosecution or “obtain any explanations.”

The son of former Krasnodar Governor Alexander Uss was detained in Italy in March, as he was traveling to Türkiye. The US Department of Justice then unsealed an indictment for sanctions evasion and requested his extradition, which an Italian court approved in April. Within days, however, Uss escaped from house arrest and reappeared in Russia.

Uss described the charges against him as “purely political pressure” and “nothing to do with justice or a fair trial,” and the allegations made by the DOJ and the State Department as containing “false information” and being “based on the manipulation of facts.”

His attorneys have suggested that the arrest and prosecution of Uss was an attempt by the American authorities to obtain a Russian “hostage” who could be traded for convicted US spy Paul Whelan.

On Wednesday, Italian authorities released a compilation of CCTV footage allegedly showing how Uss escaped. The video shows a figure dressed in black and wearing a hooded sweatshirt entering a car and departing a suburb of Milan in a “convoy” of four cars. 

According to US authorities, the operation was carried out by “a Serbian organized crime group,” which was paid about €50,000 ($54,000) for the job. They allegedly pretended to deliver groceries but provided Uss with bolt-cutters to remove his ankle monitor, after which they drove him to Serbia via Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The US is now seeking the extradition of Vladimir Jovancic, a Bosnian national who allegedly headed the group. He was arrested in Croatia on Tuesday.