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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Colorado

Friday, May 21, 2021

Bulgarian National Sentenced to Federal Prison for Illegal Exports to Russian Military and Space Program

DENVER, Co. – A Bulgarian national was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by seeking to export controlled electronic equipment from the United States to the Russian military and space program under false pretenses.

Tsvetan Kanev, 49, of Sofia, Bulgaria, pleaded guilty to violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act in March 2021. According to court documents, the defendant inquired with a U.S. manufacturer about purchasing radiation hardened integrated circuits that are commonly used in satellites. Because those circuits are controlled American technologies under the Export Administration Regulations, they require a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce to export them to certain countries including Russia. The defendant told the U.S. manufacturer that the circuits were sought by the Bulgarian Academy of Science, but the manufacturer was suspicious of the defendant’s claim and referred the matter to agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Counter-Proliferation Investigations Center (CPIC) in Colorado Springs.

Acting in an undercover capacity, HSI agents engaged with the defendant and offered to sell the controlled parts that he sought. In extensive communications with the defendant, HSI agents learned that the defendant intended to transship the exports from Bulgaria through Finland to an end user in Russia. Specifically, after shipping the technology to Finland, the defendant planned to reexport them to Russia in a suitcase to avoid documentation of their ultimate destination. The defendant later confirmed that the end users of the controlled American technology were the Russian military and space program.

The defendant engaged the undercover HSI agents in two transactions, and he acknowledged the illegality of each during negotiations. In October 2015, the defendant transferred $234,938.00 to the undercover agent to purchase clock driver and random-access memory programmable multi-chip modules. In December 2015, the defendant transferred $122,323.00 to the undercover agent to purchase a multiple analogue-to-digital converter. The particular technologies he sought are designed for aerospace applications and controlled under U.S. Department of Commerce regulations for national security reasons.

The defendant acknowledged to the HSI agents that exporting these technologies to Russia is illegal under U.S. law. He structured payments to avoid triggering scrutiny from banking authorities. He completed fraudulent end user statements to deceive U.S. Customs authorities and he encouraged the HSI agents to create additional fraudulent paperwork. The defendant paid the undercover HSI agents extra fees of $25,172.00 and $31,550.42 to compensate them for taking risks and violating U.S. laws. All monies transferred from the defendant to the undercover HSI agents were seized and forfeited to the United States.

The defendant was arrested in Germany in January 2020 and then extradited to Colorado.

“Because a U.S. manufacturer alerted the government to a suspicious foreign inquiry, transfers of American technology to the Russian military and space program were thwarted and this defendant was brought to justice,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “This kind of public-private partnership is key to protecting American technology and national security.”  

Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Julia Martinez, Wayne Paugh and David Tonini handled the prosecution of the case, with valuable assistance from Trial Attorney Matthew McKenzie of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section at the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Counterintelligence and Export Control
Updated May 21, 2021