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9 Feb 2023


German authorities raid firms suspected of Russia sanctions violations

"German authorities raid firms suspected of Russia sanctions violations", 9. February 2023

Feb 9 (Reuters) - German authorities searched the premises of three companies early Thursday as part of an ongoing probe into the possible violation of European Union sanctions against Russia, prosecutors said in a statement.

The raids followed a Reuters investigation in December into the supply chain that has continued to ship billions of dollars worth of electronic components to Russia despite Western export restrictions and manufacturer bans.

German authorities also searched the residences of three suspects, according to the statement, which didn't name the companies or individuals. The statement said that records, documents and IT equipment were seized.

A person familiar with the case said one of the three companies searched by prosecutors was Smart Impex GmbH, a German wholesaler of IT products that is suspected by authorities of bypassing sanctions on electronic components via an intermediary company in Turkey.

Reuters was unable to reach Smart Impex or its manager, Gokturk Agvaz, by phone on Thursday for comment. The names of the other two companies or the three suspects couldn't be determined.

Reuters reported in December that Agvaz had co-founded Azu International Ltd Sti, a wholesale trader of IT products in Turkey, in March 2022. Azu International exported at least $20 million worth of components to Russia last year, including computer chips made by U.S. manufacturers, according to Russian customs records. Some went to a Moscow customer that had received American and non-U.S. products from Smart Impex before Russia invaded Ukraine last February.

Agvaz told Reuters in October that Smart Impex had stopped exporting to Russia to comply with EU trade restrictions, but had sold goods to Turkey, a non-EU country that doesn't enforce many of the West's sanctions against Moscow. Asked at the time about Azu International's sales to Russia, Agvaz replied: "This is a business secret of ours."

Smart Impex's managing director resigned in December after reading the Reuters article and subsequent discussions with lawyers, according to a letter he wrote that month to two other partners. The correspondence is available on handelsregister.de, a public German companies registry. The partner who resigned wrote that he hadn't been aware that deliveries from Smart Impex to Azu were destined for Russia, and that he had assumed Smart Impex's Russian business had stopped "at the beginning of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine."

Smart Impex said in a written response to German TV show ARD MONITOR, which published an article today about the company, that the allegations were being examined in detail and that its audits so far had shown that the goods it exported to Russia weren't subject to sanctions.

Part of the following timelines

Ukraine: Global outrage over Russian invasion leads to sanctions, demands for businesses to divest

Ukraine: German company allegedly circumvented EU sanctions and sold electronic components for weapons to Russia via Turkey