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ABC News
ABC News
15 Apr 2023
ABC News

ROME -- Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni acknowledged “anomalies” in the handling of a Russian businessman who escaped from house arrest in Italy to avoid extradition to the United States and said Saturday she would speak with the justice minister to understand what happened.

During a visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Meloni termed the case of Artyom Uss “grave” and vowed to get to the bottom of it when she returned to Rome.

Uss, the 40-year-old son of a Russian regional governor, was detained in October 2022 at Milan Malpensa Airport on a U.S. warrant accusing him of violating sanctions. In November, a ruling from a Milan appeals court resulted in him being moved from jail to house arrest and outfitted with an electronic monitoring bracelet.

He escaped from Italy on March 22, a day after a Milan court recognized as legitimate the U.S. extradition request, and surfaced in Russia earlier this month.

“For sure there are anomalies,” Meloni told reporters in Ethiopia. “The principal anomaly, I’m sorry to say, is the decision of the appeals court to offer him house arrest with a frankly debatable motivation, and to then maintain that decision even after there was an extradition request. Because obviously in that case, the flight risk becomes more obvious.”

She welcomed the decision by Italian Justice Minister Carlo Nordio to undertake a disciplinary investigation, saying “we have to have clarity.” But she also said Italy didn’t have detailed intelligence information from the U.S. Justice Department “about the nature of the person.”

Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica reported Saturday that U.S. authorities made clear that the Russian presented a “very high flight risk” in two notes to Nordio’s office — one from Oct. 19, two days after Uss’ arrest, and the other sent after he was granted house arrest on Nov. 25.

The U.S. asked for Uss to remain jailed pending the outcome of extradition proceedings and cited six cases in the past three years in which suspects escaped from house arrest in Italy while extradition requests were pending, Repubblica quoted the notes as saying.

The newspaper said Nordio assured the U.S. in a Dec. 6 note that the electronic monitoring bracelet put on Uss and his required periodic check-ins with police were sufficient. Repubblica cited the Milan court's reply to Nordio’s investigation as saying the justice minister had the authority at any time to impose tougher restrictive measures on someone in extradition proceedings.