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FBI issues bizarre warning about Russian VCs

0 15 April 2014

Lucia Ziobro (left of picture), the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, has issued an extraordinary warning to US tech companies about the risks of cooperation with Russian venture capital firms. 

In an article published in the Boston Business Journal Ziobro claims that 

“the true motives of Russian partners, who are often funded by their government, is to gain access to classified, sensitive and emerging technology”.

Specifically, the FBI is concerned about state-funded Russian firms and institutions increasing their footprint in Boston and Silicon Valley through joint ventures with US companies and academic institutions, a trend which emerged during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency. 

Ziobro points to the leading role played by the Skolkovo Foundation in promoting these joint ventures, and suggests that 

“The Foundation may be a means for the Russian government to access our nation’s sensitive or classified research, development facilities and dual-use technologies with military and commercial applications.”

To back up this claim, she points out that Kamaz, a Russian truck manufacturer that also supplies all terrain transport vehicles to the Russian military, recently agreed to establish a research and development facility at the Skolkovo tech-park, prompting fears that Kamaz “will provide Russia’s military with innovative research obtained from the Foundation’s U.S. partners.”

In addition to the article, the FBI has contacted local companies and universities directly and warned them to be “vigilant and cognizant of the potential losses and the potential losses and compromises of company assets” if approached by Russian venture capitalists. 

However, Ziobro subsequently admitted that “the FBI does not have any evidence” that any intellectual property violations or thefts have occurred. 

Dmitry Akhanov, CEO of the USA branch of Russian state tech corporation Rusnano (which has invested $1.2 billion in American companies in the past four years), was shocked by the statement:

“I actually thought it was an April Fool’s joke. I had to check the date. No one has ever suspected us of any wrongdoing, and no, I’m not a spy.”

Axel Tillman, the CEO of Russian state-funded venture corporation RVC-USA, was equally unimpressed, commenting that

“Making a blank statement without any details is not a positive thing”.

The FBI’s concerns were also called into questions by MIT scientist Robert Langer, who co-founded BIND Therapeutics, a biotech company that raised $25 million from Rusnano. He said

“I’ve seen no evidence of this. In fact, they've been good investors and board members.”


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