Four Americans Linked to Ghana Coup Plot Face Charges in Argentina
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ Four Americans suspected as arms smugglers and allegedly involved in a plot to overthrow the government of Ghana were extradited Saturday from Brazil to stand trial in Argentina.
John Dee Early of Carterville, Ill.; Robert Edward Foti of Scotia, N.Y., and Julio Rodriguez-Larrabazal and Steven Villa Sosa of Fayetteville, N.C., arrived at Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport on a commercial flight from Rio de Janeiro.
Accompanied on the flight by Argentine police, they were taken in a police van from the airport to federal police headquarters downtown.
The four were expected to be arraigned this week before Federal Judge Jorge Pisarenco. He is acting in place of vacationing Judge Martin Vazquez Acuna, who in August asked for extradition of the four on charges of violating Argentine export laws.
The Americans apparently will not face weapons smuggling charges in Argentina because they were acquitted on arms contraband charges in Brazil. Argentine authorities plan to try them on charges of violating export laws in connection with rubber rafts and motors seized in Brazil.
The Americans were part of a group of eight U.S. citizens and an Argentine ship’s captain arrested in Brazil last March after their Panamanian-registered seagoing tugboat was impounded with six tons of Argentine weapons aboard. The arms included light and heavy machine guns, grenades, ammunition and other military supplies.
The group initially claimed the materiel, onloaded in Argentina, was legal and destined for Ghana’s government. But the Argentine captain, Eduardo Gilardoni, told Brazilian police he learned the arms were for Ghanaian rebels planning a coup. He said he had told the Americans he was pulling out of the deal.
All nine were convicted in Brazil in June on arms charges, but an appeals court overturned the verdict in October. Gilardoni was released, but the eight Americans were held for extradition.
Four of them escaped in December from a federal prison in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia using a smuggled tool to saw the bars of their cell. Three of the escapees later turned up in the United States.
They were quoted by U.S. media as admitting they were mercenaries contracted by Ghanaian rebels. They reportedly said they believed the coup plot was backed by the Central Intelligence Agency, but the agency denied any connection with the group.
The four who escaped were Sheldon Ainsworth of Omaha, Neb., Timothy Carmody of San Francisco, Steven Hedrick of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Frederick Verduin of Sonoma, Calif. Verduin’s whereabouts are not known.