Budapest ignored a US extradition request, opting to hand over the father and son to Moscow instead. In a sting operation, the two were caught offering Mexican cartels anti-aircraft weapons in exchange for cocaine.
US State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Tuesday that "the United States is disappointed in the Hungarian government's decision to extradite the Lyubishins to Russia." She added: "Hungary is a partner and friend of the United States, but this decision raises questions about Hungary's commitment to law enforcement cooperation."
The men in question, Vladimir Lyubishin Sr. and Vladimir Lyubishin Jr., are accused of attempting to trade millions of dollars' worth of arms with Mexican drug cartels in exchange for cocaine. The men were caught in a long-running international sting operation, in which they were arrested by representatives from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Hungarian Counter-Terrorism Center (TEK) on November 9, 2016.
Anti-aircraft missiles for mountains of cocaine
The two remained in custody in Hungary until they were eventually extradited to Russia. During the DEA sting, named "Operation Perseus," the men were recorded negotiating with customers said to be representing Mexican drug cartels. The undercover agents told the Russian-born Lyubishins that they needed arms to defend against disruptions in their drug trafficking operations by US authorities.
Over the course of several meetings, including a trip to an arms warehouse outside Budapest, the Russians discussed sales of a number of weapons, yet when they learned the street value of the cartels' cocaine they became keen on bartering arms for drugs instead. Ultimately, the Mexicans asked if the Lyubishins could not only provide machine guns, grenades and anti-tank weapons but also air-to-air and surface-to-air anti-aircraft weaponry. The Russians agreed that they could.
Looking at life in prison in the US
Washington urged Hungary to extradite the men to face charges of narcotics importation conspiracy, attempted narcotics importation, conspiracy to aid and abet the possession of firearms and conspiracy to acquire and transfer anti-aircraft missiles. The men would likely face life in prison in the US if convicted of the charges.
A third man arrested in Macedonia as part of the coordinated sting, Turkish lawyer Hamit Nasirlioglu, was extradited to the US in March 2017 for his role in facilitating the meetings.
Decision makes the world 'less safe'
After their arrest, however, Russia requested the men be extradited to Moscow, their country of origin. Although the Lyubishins face the same charges in Russia, it is unclear whether they will be put on trial. They are currently in detention in Moscow. US State Department Spokeswoman Nauert underscored that point on Tuesday, adding that Hungary's decision to ignore the US request had made the world "less safe."
The Lyubishins, who have resided in Hungary since the mid-1990s, had been actively purchasing massive amounts of outdated Hungarian Defense Forces arms, often very cheaply in no-bid contracts, and selling these to third parties for huge profits since 2012. They had been doing so through a company that began as a hunting supply store and was later renamed Pilis Defense Systems after Vladimir Lyubishin Jr. became CEO in 2012. The Lyubishins purchased the arms from HM EI co., which is owned by the Hungarian Ministry of Defense.
Abiding by international law
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his country's Ministry of Justice was abiding by international law by extraditing the Lyubishins back to their home country and not to the US.
Although Orban and US President Donald Trump seem to enjoy a personal rapport, the NATO partner has angered the US on several occasions of late — most recently, by allegedly helping Macedonia's former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski escape to Hungary to avoid standing trial on corruption charges. Orban has also sought to maintain close ties to Russia, much to the chagrin of Washington as well as Hungary's European neighbors.