Arms dealer gets 25-year prison sentence

Posted: December 21, 2013

Siarhei Baltutski claims he sold at least 100 pieces of military hardware with names like Thermal Eye Renegade 320 and Scorpion thermal weapon sights to pig hunters in his native Belarus.

But a federal judge in Philadelphia didn't buy the 41-year-old arms exporter's story and sentenced him Thursday to more than 25 years in prison for violations of federal arms-control and money-laundering laws.

Baltutski, a Minsk businessman who pleaded guilty in January, led an international arms network that recruited U.S. straw buyers, including Belarusians living as legal permanent residents in Philadelphia, to purchase military-grade rifle scopes, goggles, and other similar devices for resale on the black market.

He was arrested in 2012 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Prosecutors said he had paid at least $700,000 for the banned items but said they do not know for sure who bought them.

That uncertainty worries Homeland Security investigators, who fear that selling technology like Baltutski bought could put it in the hands of the country's enemies. Similar technology has shown up in the hands of insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, government lawyers argued in court filings.

But Baltutski's lawyer, Arkady Bukh, claimed his client sold the weaponry to hunters, not terrorists. As proof, during a hearing this year, the attorney presented U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond with a photo of Baltutski standing over a dead boar, decked out in hunting gear with a rifle equipped with a night-vision scope.

The judge seemed unimpressed. "In my view, it would seem this was like purchasing an atom bomb to kill a gnat," he said at the time.

In addition to his prison sentence, Baltutski was ordered to submit to three years of court supervision upon his release.


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649

@jeremyrroebuck

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