The United States Department of Justice has charged a Greek national with wire fraud and smuggling sensitive military-grade and dual-use goods from the United States to Russia. The suspect, Dr. Nikolaos “Nikos” Bogonikolos, 59, was arrested in Paris, France, on May 9, at the request of the United States, and is currently in custody pending extradition proceedings.
Bogonikolos is a mathematician and self-described “serial entrepreneur”, with business activities dating back to 1987. He has authored and co-authored academic articles, holds a number of patents, and has published a book entitled Total Process Security Reengineering. Following the ECHELON revelations in the late 1990’s, he authored a report (.pdf) entitled “The Perception of Economic Risks Arising from the Potential Vulnerability of Electronic Commercial Media to Interception” as part of a study for the European Parliament.
In 2005, Bogonikolos received his PhD from the Kharkov National Economic University in Ukraine, focusing on applications of artificial intelligence in the field of economics. According to his own claims, he has been active as an entrepreneur or researcher in some 40 countries, including Russia. Bogonikolos is the founder of a Greek-based company called Aratos Group. In 2016, Aratos Systems BV was registered as legal entity in The Netherlands. Since 2020, the company has been located in the town of Rijen, which is also home to the main operational military helicopter base of the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
Aratos Systems BV describes itself on its website (currently offline) as an “independent and leading member of the Greek Aratos Group”. Its activities, as declared to the Netherlands chamber of commerce, are “the collection, processing, protecting, and selling of earth observation data to public and private parties”. Aratos Systems also “owns and runs a fully equipped Satellite Ground Station constantly connected with EUMETSAT” —the latter being the European operational satellite agency for monitoring weather, climate and the environment from space.
Last week, the Netherlands Public Prosecution Service and the Fiscal Information and Investigation Service raided the Aratos Systems offices in Rijen. According to the unsealed complaint (.pdf) it is believed that Bogonikolos was contacted in October 2017 by representatives of an illicit Russian procurement network that acquires sensitive military-grade and dual-use technologies, under the direction of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Elements of that network are often referred to by Western government officials as “the Serniya Network” or “Sertal”, among other names.
In December 2017, Bogonikolos allegedly accepted an invitation to travel to Moscow alone for a meeting. The complaint cites an email exchange between senior members of Sertal and Serniya Network, including Yevgeniy Grinin and Aleksey Ippolitov, who are both wanted by the FBI. In the email exchange, it is suggested that Bogonikolos is a “supporter of the Orthodoxy” and that he sees it as “the basis of friendship with Russia”.
Bogonikolos is alleged to have acted as a procurement agent, by having falsely declared Aratos as the end-user of export-controlled goods, thus concealing their actual end-user. Among the export-controlled goods are tactical military antennas, frequency synthesizers that have uses in nuclear weapons development and testing, high-electron mobility transistors for use in satellite and radio communications, and laser equipment for use in quantum cryptography and quantum communication networks. In one example, the tactical antennas were falsely declared to be used for “recreational and tourism maritime vessels” in the Netherlands. In reality, however, they were allegedly handed over to Serniya. Other alleged recipients of export-controlled goods that were fraudulently procured by Aratos include the SVR’s Military Unit 33949 and a host of Russian nuclear and quantum research facilities.
The allegations span the period of “in or about and between January 2017 and May 2023”, hence predating Bogonikolos’ visit to Moscow by nearly a year. During those years, several new companies were established in The Netherlands under the sole ownership of Aratos International BV, which is itself owned by Bogonikolos and two other shareholders. Those companies include ForceApp BV (2017), Interzone International BV (2018), Blockchain2050 BV (2018), as well as Aratos High Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS) BV (2020). Through these companies, the business and research activities of Aratos International BV span blockchain technology, satellite systems, drone detection, and precision agriculture, among others. An Aratos Group presentation from 2017, entitled “Next Generation Drone Detection Radar Technology”, mentions five geographical areas of interest: Europe, Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa region, Central Asia, and the Russian Federation.
The two other shareholders of Aratos International have responded to Bogonikolos’ arrest with surprise and dismay, stating “we had no clue about the actions that he is being suspected of”. The companies that are part of Aratos International have suspended their activities until further notice. The two shareholders say they will cooperate with investigations by the authorities. A former Aratos employee, who quit last year, described Bogonikolos as “very authoritarian and manipulative”.
Former Netherlands Defense Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) psychologist Elsine van Os observes that Bogonikolos’ online presence leaves the impression of a lone man traveling a lot by himself, taking selfies at iconic buildings, rarely ever showing others, always wearing a suit. Van Os points out that intelligence agencies profile persons for potential recruitment, and often leverage a target’s psychological traits, for instance by attempting to boost a target’s ego or status.
Although referred to as “defense companies”, sources say that none of Aratos’ companies had yet been ‘ABDO certified’ by the MIVD, which is required for Ministry of Defense suppliers that handle classified information.