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. We’ve got everything you need to know.

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.”

Smuggled in suitcases

Between August and December 2019, one defendant carried over 1,000 apple products valued at over $1 million from 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

Did Aeroflot know?

Due to the scheme’s extent, the US has revoked the visas of 113 Aeroflot employees, preventing them from flying into the US. With 113 employees unable to fly to the US, the airline likely make some schedule changes. There is no evidence that the airline was involved in the scheme or had any knowledge of it.

However, many will ask questions about Aeroflot’s security procedures. The airline allowed crew members to get away with the scheme for many months. The airline also faced a legal scandal last year when its CEO was arrested for fraud. According to court documents, former deputy CEO Vladimir Alexandrov stole around $3.8 million.

Aeroflot has not yet responded to a request for comment.


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