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Son Of Ex-Kyrgyz Envoy Jailed For Three Years For U.S. Weapons Smuggling

Former Kyrgyz Ambassador to the U.S. Zamira Sydykova said she thought the sentence was excessive.
Former Kyrgyz Ambassador to the U.S. Zamira Sydykova said she thought the sentence was excessive.

The son of the former Kyrgyz ambassador to the United States has been sentenced to three years in a U.S. prison after he pleaded guilty to trying to smuggle weapons to Chechnya.

Judge T. S. Ellis issued the order in January, three months after Tengiz Sydykov agreed to plead guilty to a single charge of violating the Arms Export Control Act.

Sydykov and another man, Eldar Rezvanov, were arrested by U.S. authorities in February 2018 in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Sydykov and Rezvanov bought more than 100 disassembled firearms and attempted to ship them to the southern Russian region of Chechnya without a license.

The two had been charged under the Arms Export Control Act, which regulates foreign military sales and commercial sales of defense articles, conspiracy to smuggle goods from the United States, bank fraud, and money laundering.

Sydykov, who could have received up to 20 years in prison in the case, had initially pleaded innocent to the charges. It wasn't immediately clear why he changed his plea. He is scheduled to turn himself in to federal prison officials on March 4.

According to court records, Rezvanov, a Kazakh citizen, pleaded guilty to a similar charge in July 2018, and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Sydykov's mother is Zamira Sydykova, a well-known journalist who served as Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Washington in 2005-10.

Last year, after her son's arrest, Sydykova said he had been wrongly accused as the result of a "misunderstanding."

In an interview with RFE/RL, Sydykova said she thought the sentence was excessive given that, she said, the two men hadn't fully understood U.S. export regulations.

"The boys didn't know that they needed a license," she said.

Before the judge issued the verdict, dated January 11, Sydykov wrote a letter to the court, apologizing for his actions and asking for a lenient sentence, citing in part the birth of his son, in October.

"I am extremely remorseful for getting involved in this criminal activity and for the lawbreaking acts that I have committed along the way," he wrote in the letter, dated December 25, 2018. "As an immigrant, I am also very regretful to have broken trust of the country that has given my family and myself a privilege of residency, the country in which I grew up and call home."

Sydykov also suggested that he feared for his personal safety, citing an unnamed "Russian counterpart."

"My involvement in illicit export continued for a short period until I was able to withdraw," he wrote. "I was afraid that the Russian counterpart could harm my family physically or through blackmail if I was to decline his requests for certain items."

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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