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Second Suspect Arrested In U.S. Probe Into Russian-Led Theft Of Aviation Secrets

A visitor photographs the General Electric GE90 engine at the Farnborough Air Show in the U.K. in July 2018.
A visitor photographs the General Electric GE90 engine at the Farnborough Air Show in the U.K. in July 2018.

WASHINGTON -- A second suspect has been arrested as part of a U.S. criminal case alleging that a Russian defense executive attempted to steal trade secrets from the aviation unit of General Electric.

Maurizio Bianchi, the former director of an Italian company that is a division of GE Aviation, was arrested October 2 in Marino, Italy, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement on October 4.

Aleksandr Korshunov, 57, an employee of the Russian state-owned United Engine Corp, and Bianchi, were charged by the United States in August of trying to steal the U.S. company’s jet-engine secrets, according to an Ohio criminal complaint. Korshunov was arrested on August 30 after he arrived at Naples International Airport.

A federal grand jury in Cincinnati indicted the pair on September 11 with conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets and attempted theft. The Justice Department said neither of the defendants have been extradited to the United States yet.

Ohio-based GE Aviation, one of the world's largest suppliers of civilian and military aircraft engines, in 2013 completed the acquisition of Avio Aero, an Italian manufacturer of aviation components.

The United States alleges that between 2013 and 2018 Bianchi hired current and former employees of Avio Aero to do “consulting work” on jet engine accessory gearboxes at the behest of Korshunov, a former Russian Foreign Ministry official. Bianchi left Avio Aero in 2012.

Bianchi’s employees “allegedly used trade secrets” patented by Avio Aero and GE Aviation to create a technical report for Korshunov, the Justice Department statement said.

The October 2 arrest came in the middle of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s three-day trip to Italy. The State Department declined to say whether Pompeo brought the case up with Italian officials.

Pompeo on October 1 discussed “U.S.-Italian cooperation in addressing security threats” with President Sergio Mattarella, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the next day.

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on September 5, the day the arrests of Korshunov and Bianchi was made public. The two men discussed "bilateral relations," according to the White House, which gave no further details.

The Russian Embassy in Washington said last month that its diplomats visited the State Department, where they lodged a "decisive protest" over Korshunov's detention, calling it "illegitimate" while demanding the "immediate withdrawal" of the extradition request.

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