A Russian nuclear executive who was proven by the FBI to be involved in a racketeering scheme involving bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering, was given a visa by the Obama administration, reports The Hill.
Court records show that the TENEX executive Vadim Mikerin was engaged in illegal content since fall of 2009, and yet was allowed into the U.S. with a L1 temporary work visa when he arrived in December 2011.
Just months before he was arrested, his visa was renewed in August 2014, which he and his company applied for in the summer of 2011. “An L1 visa permits a temporary transfer of a foreign company’s manager to the United States because the visa holder is deemed to have unique skills,” according to The Hill.
“It is concerning that a suspected criminal was able to apply for and renew a work visa while being under FBI investigation,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrote in the letter. Congressional committees led by multiple members of the GOP sent a letter on Tuesday to the State Department and Homeland Security Department demanding answers.
The FBI or Homeland and State did not give an explanation to The Hill, but officials familiar with law enforcement issues involving visas said it was possible the FBI evidence on Mikerin was not flagged in databases checked by State and Homeland before Mikerin was granted entry.
Another possibility is that the FBI allowed Mikerin in so they could monitor his activities as a part of a larger counterintelligence operation and detect other possible conspirators. The Homeland Security’s own internal watchdog, said there were several “shortfalls” in the screening of applicants for H1-B visas, which is a similar work visa like L1.
The government safeguards “provide minimal assurance that H-1B visa participants are compliant and not engaged in fraudulent activity,” the inspector general warmed.
During the five-year delay between the time the FBI first detected illegal conduct from Mikerin and when he was finally arrested in 2014, the Obama administration approved the controversial sale of uranium assets to Mikerin’s parent company Rosatom and allowed billions in new contracts to be signed between TENEX and American utilities.
Republican lawmakers now want to know whether the criminal scheme should have been grounds to oppose those deals.
Merkin’s own legal team believes the five-year delay should be grounds for dismissing the charges against the executive of the Russian nuclear firm TENEX. His lawyers noted that he was able to enter the country legally anyways, and a potential defense witness died of cancer before he could be cross-examined:
“In 2009, the government began an investigation into the alleged criminal activity set forth in the indictment, and the last overt act of the alleged conspiracy occurred in January 2012,” the defense lawyers wrote. “Despite this, and despite knowing in early-2011 that an alleged co-conspirator and key defense witness was terminally ill, the government delayed seizing key evidence — which was then destroyed — and delayed bringing the Indictment until the end of 2014.”
The defense lawyers continue to say that the government did not have enough credible evidence against Merkin, so that is why the government delayed the sentencing and the consequences thereof all the more prejudicial.
Merkin was assured that his information was being briefed to the highest levels of U.S. government, but in fact was not:
“‘On at least two occasions my client was told by his FBI agent handlers that information about the Russian nuclear bribery scheme he uncovered had been briefed to President Obama and that agents were keeping then FBI Director Robert Mueller informed as well,’ attorney Victoria Toensing said. ‘One of the briefings occurred before the Obama administration approved the Uranium One deal in fall 2010.
While he has not first hand knowledge of what was in the president’s daily briefings, he was told unequivocally by the agents that information from the bribery case had been shared with the president and other senior officials and was given praise for providing that evidence,’ Toensing added.”
The court however, was ultimately not convinced and Mikerin eventually pled guilty to a money laundering charge for a racketeering scheme that prosecutors said stretched form 2004 to 2014 and included bribery payments to the heads of an American trucking company that moved sensitive uranium around the country.
Mikerin was sentenced to four years in prison in December 2015, and a federal prosecutor argued the defendant should not be shown more leniency because the evidence the FBI had gathered showed a sensitive asset, a uranium shipping company, had been compromised by the bribery-kickback scheme.
Why was a Russian official coming to the U.S. soliciting bribes from companies working in such sensitive areas? That is exactly what the assistant U.S. Attorney Ephraim Wernick was quoted in saying in the media report for the sentencing hearing.