A Dutch-based NATO contractor accused of selling advanced US defence technology including nuclear weapons tech to Russia has been seized by police in Paris, it has emerged.
Accused Nikolaos ‘Nikos’ Bogonikolos, 59, is said to have acquired secrets over next generation weapons and provided them to Russian firms with Kremlin links.
Bogonikolos was seized in the French capital on 9th May and is expected to be extradited to the USA.
The contractor – originally from Athens, Greece – is head of the Dutch satellite tech company Aratos based in Rijen in Brabant.
US officials have accused him of “double dealing”, saying that he evaded sanctions on blacklisted Russian firms to sell secrets to the Kremlin’s intelligence agencies.
Bogonikolos faces charges of wire fraud, conspiracy and smuggling highly sensitive tech to Russia’s military security services.
He is accused of selling lasers used in space technology, targetting systems and even nuclear weapon technology, as well as other state-of-the-art equipment.
Much of it was allegedly shipped out to Russian firms disguised as civilian equipment.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement on Tuesday, 16th May, that he “remains in custody pending the resolution of extradition proceedings”.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said: “As alleged, while ostensibly operating as a defense contractor for NATO and other ally countries, the defendant and his Aratos Group were double dealing, helping to fuel Russia’s war effort and their development of next generation weapon.”
He added: “Our office continues to work tirelessly to ensure that disruptive technologies do not fall into the wrong hands.”
The statement said: “Mr. Peace thanked the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs for their assistance in this case, the FBI’s Legal Attache offices in Paris and the Netherlands, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Attache office in Paris for their assistance in this case.
“The United States thanks the French and Dutch authorities for their assistance.”
Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said: “These charges demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to preventing sensitive technology from falling into the hands of foreign adversaries, including Russia, China, and Iran.”
He added: “We will not tolerate those who would violate U.S. laws to allow authoritarian regimes and other hostile nations to use advanced technology to threaten U.S. national security and undermine democratic values around the world.”
FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael Driscoll said: “As alleged, Bogonikolos conspired with a network of companies orchestrated by the Russian intelligence services to fraudulently acquire and then smuggle U.S.-origin military and dual-use technologies to aid the Russian defense and security sectors.
“Bogonikolos procured sensitive equipment meeting NATO specifications designed for tactical battlefield conditions as well as components with applications in space-based and cryptographic communications, on behalf of his Russian intelligence handlers seeking to improve their country’s warfighting capabilities.
“This case highlights the FBI’s commitment to keeping critical technologies away from America’s adversaries, and dismantling the criminal networks complicit in Russia’s war of aggression.”
The US authorities accused Bogonikolos of export violations, saying: “As alleged in the complaint, the defendant headed the Aratos Group (Aratos), a collection of defense and technology companies in the Netherlands and Greece, which are both member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
“According to Aratos’ website, the companies’ areas of expertise included ‘Space Technologies’, ‘Homeland Security’, ‘Blockchain’, and ‘Counter-Drone Systems.’
“One of Aratos’ subsidiaries, Aratos Systems BV, was a finalist in the NATO Innovation Challenge for space applications in 2021 for a proposal involving the use of artificial intelligence and blockchain technology for satellites and spacecraft.
“In the proposal, the defendant represented that he had experience advising the European Parliament and ‘governments worldwide’, and that Aratos had supplied defense equipment and related technologies to countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
“However as alleged in the complaint, since 2017 the defendant has been involved in smuggling U.S.-origin military and dual-use technologies to Russia in violation of U.S. law.
“These highly regulated and sensitive components included advanced electronics and sophisticated testing equipment used in military applications, including quantum cryptography and nuclear weapons testing, as well as tactical battlefield equipment.”
The US authorities also said in their statement that Bogonikolos was providing technology to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service and that he was recruited in 2017.
The statement says: “The defendant claimed that these items were to be used by Aratos, when in reality they were illegally reshipped and sent to Russia.
“Some of the Russian end users included nuclear and quantum research facilities, as well as ‘Military Unit 33949’, which is part of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known as the ‘SVR’.
“As described in the complaint, many of these orders were solicited by Serniya Engineering and Sertal LLC (the ‘Serniya Network’), Moscow-based companies that operate under the direction of Russian intelligence services.
“Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Department of Commerce (DOC) Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) levied sanctions against Serniya, Sertal, and several individuals and companies used in the scheme, calling them ‘instrumental to the Russian Federation’s war machine.’
“As alleged in the complaint, the defendant was recruited as a procurement agent for Russia in and around 2017.”
Images show Bogonikolos in Zaryadye Park, Moscow, Russia, in 2017. They were shared by Bogonikolos himself on social media.
Dutch media reported that last October, the head of the Dutch military secret service (MIVD) said that Dutch high-tech companies were unknowingly providing their technologies to companies that had been set up by Russian intelligence.
MIVD chief Jan Swillens told the Financieele Dagblad that the GRU, a Russian military intelligence organisation, had created front companies to buy military technology in the Netherlands and smuggle it to Russia.