AP International

Italy probes how Russian, wanted by US, fled house arrest

ROME (AP) — Italy is investigating how a Russian businessman escaped from house arrest near Milan to avoid extradition to the United States on sanctions-breaking charges.

Justice Minister Carlo Nordio has ordered a probe into the decision by court officials in Milan to transfer Artyom Uss from jail to house arrest in a nearby town while Italy’s justice system decided on the U.S. extradition request, Italian news reports said on Friday.

Uss, 40, was detained on a US warrant in October 2022 at Milan Malpensa airport, where he was about to travel to Turkey for a connecting flight to Russia.

In November, he was moved to house arrest from jail. He apparently removed an electronic monitoring bracelet and escaped from Italy on March 22, a day after a Milan court recognized as legitimate the U.S. extradition request.

He resurfaced in Russia in early April.

Investigators believe he was driven away shortly after breaking the monitoring device, crossed into neighboring Slovenia thanks to false identity documents and then traveled on to Serbia, where he purportedly caught a flight to Moscow, Italian daily Corriere della Sera said.

Uss’ father, a regional governor in Russia, thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin in a video for his son’s return to his homeland, Italian media reported.

On Thursday, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, flanked by officials from the intelligence service and the Cabinet, appeared before a closed-door hearing of a standing parliamentary committee on intelligence, whose members asked about the dynamics of the escape.

For security reasons, committee members aren’t supposed to reveal details of the hearings to reporters. News reports said lawmakers declined to comment publicly as they left. Italian media said Meloni ruled out any responsibility by her government for the escape.

The United States is seeking Uss’ extradition on charges of smuggling Western technology in violation of Western sanctions and of money laundering. Corriere della Sera claimed Uss was suspected of involvement in contraband operations to ship millions of barrels of oil from Venezuela to Russia and China.

Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

Turin daily La Stampa, citing unidentified Milan justice officials, said that investigators contend that perhaps at least half-dozen individuals, all from eastern Europe, were involved in aiding the escape.

Citing Milan court documents, Italian news agency ANSA said on Friday that Italy’s justice ministry had sought to assuage U.S. justice officials’ concerns in a letter in early December over the transfer to house arrest by saying Uss was outfitted with an electronic monitoring device.

According to Corriere della Sera, U.S. authorities in late November had alerted Italian justice ministry officials to the risk that Uss could flee.

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