Lithuania to extradite suspected Russian arms dealer to U.S.

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 14, 2013 11:25 AM

By Andrius Sytas

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuania will extradite a Russian citizen to the United States on charges of arms trafficking, an appeals court in Vilnius said on Wednesday, despite protests by Russia.

Dmitry Ustinov, 47, is wanted by the U.S. Department of Justice on charges of money laundering and moving items illegal for export from the United States to Russia, including military-grade night vision goggles.

He faces a minimum jail term of 20 years if convicted.

Russia's embassy in Vilnius condemned the court decision.

"The appeals court verdict was taken hurriedly, which shows that the Lithuanian side was biased in this case," the embassy said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

"Overall, the actions of American and Lithuanian law agencies do nothing to improve the atmosphere of both Russian-American and Russian-Lithuanian relations."

The extradition comes at a time of heightened tension between the United States and Russia, which is refusing to give up former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is wanted for leaking details of U.S. surveillance programs.

Washington's inability to persuade Russia to return Snowden to the United States has further soured relations with Russia, with U.S. President Barack Obama abruptly cancelling a Moscow summit with President Vladimir Putin planned for next month.

"Russia sees this Lithuanian move as part of its complex and worsening relationship with the USA, and this is not good news for Lithuanian ties with Russia," said Nerijus Maliukevicius, political scientist at Vilnius Institute of International Relations and Political Science.

The U.S. embassy in Vilnius declined to comment.

Ustinov will be transferred to U.S. officials possibly within the next 10 days, said Saulius Puidokas, acting head of Lithuania's Criminal Police Bureau's international department.

Russia said in July it "deeply regretted" an earlier court decision to extradite Ustinov and had asked that the request be overturned.

Ustinov was arrested on April 15 in Vilnius airport where he was to meet his American business partner, his lawyer, Drasutis Zagreckas, told Reuters.

"My client contests all charges," he said.

Ustinov said he bought the night goggles, which are not restricted in Russia, for resale in his shop in Moscow, which specializes in hunting supplies, news site Delfi has reported.

(Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Alison Williams)