U.S. charges Greek businessman with smuggling military and dual-use goods to Russia

Rijen NetherlandsThe United States Department of Justice has charged a Greek national with wire fraud and smuggling sensitive military-grade and dual-use goods from the United States to Russia. The suspect, Dr. Nikolaos “Nikos” Bogonikolos, 59, was arrested in Paris, France, on May 9, at the request of the United States, and is currently in custody pending extradition proceedings.

Bogonikolos is a mathematician and self-described “serial entrepreneur”, with business activities dating back to 1987. He has authored and co-authored academic articles, holds a number of patents, and has published a book entitled Total Process Security Reengineering. Following the ECHELON revelations in the late 1990’s, he authored a report (.pdf) entitled “The Perception of Economic Risks Arising from the Potential Vulnerability of Electronic Commercial Media to Interception” as part of a study for the European Parliament.

In 2005, Bogonikolos received his PhD from the Kharkov National Economic University in Ukraine, focusing on applications of artificial intelligence in the field of economics. According to his own claims, he has been active as an entrepreneur or researcher in some 40 countries, including Russia. Bogonikolos is the founder of a Greek-based company called Aratos Group. In 2016, Aratos Systems BV was registered as legal entity in The Netherlands. Since 2020, the company has been located in the town of Rijen, which is also home to the main operational military helicopter base of the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

Aratos Systems BV describes itself on its website (currently offline) as an “independent and leading member of the Greek Aratos Group”. Its activities, as declared to the Netherlands chamber of commerce, are “the collection, processing, protecting, and selling of earth observation data to public and private parties”. Aratos Systems also “owns and runs a fully equipped Satellite Ground Station constantly connected with EUMETSAT” —the latter being the European operational satellite agency for monitoring weather, climate and the environment from space.

Last week, the Netherlands Public Prosecution Service and the Fiscal Information and Investigation Service raided the Aratos Systems offices in Rijen. According to the unsealed complaint (.pdf) it is believed that Bogonikolos was contacted in December 2017 by representatives of an illicit Russian procurement network that acquires sensitive military-grade and dual-use technologies, under the direction of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Elements of that network are often referred to by Western government officials as “the Serniya Network” or “Sertal”, among other names. In December 2022 the United States charged five Russian nationals, including a suspected intelligence officer, believed to be part of that network, as well as two United States nationals.

In December 2017, Bogonikolos allegedly accepted an invitation to travel to Moscow alone for a meeting. The complaint cites an email exchange between senior members of Sertal and Serniya Network, including Yevgeniy Grinin and Aleksey Ippolitov, who are both wanted by the FBI. In the email exchange, it is suggested that Bogonikolos is a “supporter of the Orthodoxy” and that he sees it as “the basis of friendship with Russia”.

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