WASHINGTON – Italian police arrested a top executive of Russia’s state-owned aircraft-engine maker on United States charges that he tried to steal aviation secrets, the Justice Department said on Thursday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the arrest as “bad practice” and said it could complicate relations with the US, which he noted uses Russian raw materials for its own aviation industry.
“Boeings are made from our titanium,” Putin told an economic forum in the Russian Far Eastern city of Vladivostok.
The Justice Department said that Alexander Korshunov, 57, head of business development at United Engine Corp, was detained last week on his arrival at an airport in Naples, Italy, on a criminal complaint that the department released on Thursday.
UEC produces engines for civil and military aircraft, as well as power turbines.
The company is a subsidiary of the Russian state conglomerate Rostec, whose head, Sergei Chemezov, is a confidant of Putin and is subject to US sanctions.
The companies didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday.
The US complaint said that Korshunov, who is a former employee of Russia’s foreign ministry, and another defendant used an Italian company to hire current and former employees of General Electric Co’s aviation subsidiary to do consulting work on jet-engine accessories.
The complaint said that those people “used trade secrets owned by GE Aviation” to create a report.
The report focused on gear boxes that transfer power from engines to external components such as hydraulic pumps, generators and fuel pumps.
“The individuals charged in this case targeted employees of Avio Aero, a GE Aviation subsidiary company in Italy, in an effort to illegally obtain trade secrets related to external engine components,” GE Aviation said in a statement Thursday.
“We protect and defend our intellectual property,” it added.
The complaint said that Korshunov’s company was working on an engine for a Russian airliner, the Irkut MC-21, that Putin said Thursday was a competitor to Boeing Co passenger jets.
The complaint said Korshunov and the second defendant, Maurizio Paolo Bianchi, showed a “pattern of tradecraft” in their emails that was intended to hide the identities of the employees who had worked at GE.
The Justice Department didn’t comment on the whereabouts of Korshunov or Bianchi.
Bianchi’s company didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday. It couldn’t be determined if either man had a lawyer.
In his comments Thursday, Putin said that the officials at UEC had a contract with an Italian intermediary company “for consultations.”
“This is absolutely normal, world-wide practice,” he said.