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Accused accomplice of Russian fugitive arrested and charged by Justice Department

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Croatian authorities have arrested a man accused of masterminding a cross-country escape that allowed a Russian to return to his home country – the latest step in a global game of cat and mouse between U.S. authorities and criminal suspects linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The charges were unsealed overnight in New York, where federal prosecutors said Vladimir Jovancic, a Bosnian citizen, orchestrated Artem Uss’s escape from Italy.

Uss is the son of Alexander Uss, a former Russian governor and close ally of Putin. After the son fled, the father publicly thanked Putin. On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller announced a $7 million reward for information leading to the capture of Uss.

Last year, Artem Uss and others were tasked with managing a business project to violate sanctions, among other things, by delivering sensitive U.S. computer equipment with military applications to banned Russian entities. U.S. officials said some of that computer equipment was later found on Russian weapons systems seized on the battlefield in Ukraine. The indictment also charged a conspiracy to smuggle hundreds of millions of barrels of oil from Venezuela through a front company in Germany.

Artem Uss was arrested in Milan on October 17, 2022, while trying to return home to Russia. American authorities then began the process of requesting his extradition to the United States to stand trial.

Five months later, an Italian court approved his extradition. A day after that decision, authorities said, Uss cut off his ankle monitoring bracelet and fled the country by car.

Russians accused of violating sanctions

In a letter to a federal judge in Brooklyn, prosecutors said Jovancic “and other individuals affiliated with a Serbian organized crime group” organized Uss’ flight from justice.

First, authorities said, Jovanovic pretended to deliver groceries to Uss’ home. The real purpose of the visit was to prepare for the escape.

On the day of the escape, Jovancic “escorted Uss into a car and provided him with bolt cutters, which he used to remove his electronic ankle monitor and throw it out the window,” the letter to the police said. U.S. District Judge Rachel Kovner.

Jovancic and his group then allegedly led Uss to Slovenia.

“Over the next few days, Jovancic and his co-conspirators took Uss through Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina before crossing into Serbia,” the letter states. Jovancic received around 50,000 euros for this work, according to American authorities.

The Justice Department filed the letter in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the Uss escape: Prosecutors asked the judge to issue a detention order, so that Jovancic would not be released from prison for that he is fighting his extradition to the United States.

Jovancic “has no ties to the United States, while maintaining a network of criminal associates in the Balkans, Russia and elsewhere,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Artie McConnell wrote in the letter. “If released, Jovancic would undoubtedly flee the jurisdiction and seek refuge in Russia or another non-extradited country. »

Jovancic was charged with obstructing justice and inciting or aiding escape.

Aaron Schaffer contributed to this report.

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