Two Charged With Trying To Smuggle Arms To Iraq, Iran, Libya With AM-US-Gulf, Bjt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two Europeans were charged Wednesday with trying to buy missiles capable of releasing toxic gas and other arms for Middle East countries including Iraq, customs officials said.
Customs Service Commissioner Carol Hallet said the two were arrested Monday in Orlando, Fla., after meeting with undercover agents to finalize the purchase of TOW anti-tank missiles and to discuss other arms purchases.
Ms. Hallet said Claus Fuhler, a German eye doctor living in Spain, and Juan Martin Peche-Koesters, a Spanish citizen, were indicted by the U.S. District Court in Orlando on three counts of conspiring to export missiles and other arms to Iran, Iraq, Libya and other Arab countries.
The two men were charged with violating the Arms Export Control Act, which bans arms sales to the three countries.
Ms. Hallet said the attempt to buy the TOW missiles was ″clearly″ linked to the Mideast crisis resulting from Iraq’s Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. She said the arrests were ″of particular importance at this particular time.″
The two were also trying to buy and ship 40 Toyota jeep-like vehicles mounted with 106mm artillery guns; rifles; mortars; demolition charges and grenades, she said.
She told reporters that the sting operation, codenamed ″Operation Dragon,″ began more than a year ago, when a U.S. manufacturer of the missiles tipped off the Customs Service that Fuhler and Peche-Koesters were seeking to buy 10,000 TOW missiles for $160 million.
They also negotiated with undercover agents posing as arms dealers the purchase of 20,000 artillery shells, she said. The Europeans specified that half of the shells, with a range of up to 17 miles, had to be capable up releasing toxic gas upon impact, she said.
Ms. Hallet said it was not known what percentage of the weapons was destined for Iraq, which has a huge arsenal of chemical weapons.
At the time of their arrest Monday, the two were trying to pay for and obtain 200 TOW missiles for shipment, through Spain, to Libya, Ms. Hallet said.
She said the two had agreed to pay $3.7 million for the missiles, with each man allegedly receiving a 15 percent commission.
The commissioner also said the men told the agents they had found a different supplier for the vehicles because the agents had submitted their $860,000 bid three days late.
During the yearlong negotiations for the missiles, the commissioner said, Fuhler and Peche-Koesters informed the agents they planned to file false bills of lading and false invoices with the Customs Service. The weapons would have been manifested as drilling equipment, machinery and motors, Ms. Hallet said.
She said that in correspondence with the agents the two referred to the requested arms as ″toys.″
Ms. Hallet would identify the manufacturer originally contacted only as a ″strategic technology development″ company. She said a senior executive in the company became suspicious when he received the large order and referred it to the Customs Service.