A Russian businessman wanted in the US for alleged money-laundering and sanctions evasion has escaped from house arrest in Italy, a day after an Italian court approved his extradition.
Artem Uss, 40, the son of the governor of the Russian province of Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, slipped out of his home in the small town of Basiglio near Milan on Wednesday afternoon despite the use of an electronic tag to monitor him.
“Intensive investigations are under way to find him,” Italy’s Carabinieri police said in a statement on Thursday.
Uss’ defence team said it did not know where he was, Russian state newswire Tass reported.
Uss, the subject of an international arrest warrant, was taken into custody at Milan’s international airport on October 17, weeks after US authorities charged him with criminal conspiracy, fraud and money laundering.
After about six weeks in jail, Uss was released to house arrest — with an electronic bracelet to monitor him — in early December, following an Italian court order.
The Carabinieri said officers rushed to the Russian’s home on Wednesday afternoon as the bracelet alarm began signalling his potential escape. They found he had already slipped away.
The police — whose station was just 2.3km from Uss’s home — said officers had checked on him at home an hour earlier and found nothing amiss.
The day before Uss’s escape, an appeals court in Milan had ruled he could be extradited to the US to stand trial on charges of bank fraud and violating an embargo against Venezuela.
According to US prosecutors, Uss was the co-owner of a Germany-based commodities trading and industrial equipment business called Nord-Deutsche Industrieanlagenbau.
US authorities claimed he used the German trading company to buy sensitive US military technology, then sent it to Russian entities, including sanctioned companies.
It said the company also smuggled hundreds of millions of barrels of Venezuelan oil to buyers, including to groups controlled by sanctioned oligarchs.
While the Italian court ruled the US could not try the Russian on the charges of smuggling military technology or money laundering, it said he could be held to answer the other two charges.
Shortly after Uss’ arrest in October, police in Moscow hurriedly put together a money-laundering case against him in Russia and secured a court order for his extradition. The hasty request probably indicated that Russia wanted to rescue him from US prosecution by remanding him there, the Kommersant newspaper reported.
Uss asked the court to extradite him to Russia instead of the US in January. Russian state media has suggested the US wants to use him as a pawn in a potential exchange for US nationals imprisoned in Russia, including ex-Marine Paul Whelan.
Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov, asked about the prospect of an exchange involving Uss on Wednesday ahead of his escape, said Washington had not expressed an interest in exchanging him for US citizens at “earlier stages of the discussion”. But Ryabkov added “everything is possible”, according to Tass.
“I don’t know what Mr Uss’ fate will be. I hope that he will return home one way or the other. But for now there is no basis to talk about anything to do with any kind of exchanges,” Ryabkov said.
The Russian businessman’s embarrassing escape comes after Italy’s prime minister Giorgia Meloni reiterated her commitment to Ukraine in its struggle against Russia’s invasion.
In parliament this week, Meloni, who visited Kyiv last month, pledged her government would support the Ukrainian cause even at the cost of her own popularity because “it is right to do so in terms of national values and interest”.
Additional reporting by Giuliana Ricozzi in Rome
Source: Financial Times