Judge Dismisses Weapons-Smuggling Case Against 2 Europeans
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ A federal judge dismissed weapons-smuggling charges against two Europeans accused of trying to ship thousands of anti-tank missiles and other weapons to Iraq, Iran and Libya.
U.S. District Judge Patricia Fawsett’s ruling Friday, after three weeks of government testimony, closed a high-profile case that began in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in early August.
She agreed with defense attorneys that there was not enough evidence to prove intent or a conspiracy to smuggle the weapons.
″Prosecutors connected with the case were involved in grandstanding from the very beginning,″ said defense attorney Don Lykkebak, noting the arrests and indictment were ballyhooed in a Washington news conference featuring TOW missile props. ″The problem was there was never any case.″
Claus Fuhler, 33, a German-born ophthalmologist living in Barcelona, Spain, and Juan Martin Peche-Koesters, 36, a Madrid businessman, were arrested Aug. 15, nearly two weeks after the Iraqi invasion.
They were accused of trying to buy such items as 10,000 TOW missiles, 20,000 artillery shells, artillery-equipped jeeps, rifles, grenades and mortars, as well as nuclear waste and chemical garbage.
The two men were charged with violating the Arms Export Control Act, which bans arms sales to the three countries.
U.S. Attorney Robert Genzman issued a statement saying that despite the dismissal of charges his office would not be deterred from prosecuting arms smugglers.
″We accept the court’s decision but we also want to stress the importance of pursuing arms traffickers who jeopardize our national security interests,″ he said.
Customs agents said the arrests culminated a yearlong sting code-named ″Operation Dragon,″ in which a U.S. manufacturer of the TOW missiles tipped authorities that Fuhler and Peche-Koesters allegedly were seeking 10,000 missiles for $160 million.
At the time of the arrests, an undercover agent posing as an arms dealer said the men were trying to buy 200 TOW missiles for shipment through Spain to Libya. U.S. Customs Service Commissioner Carol Hallett had said the case was ″clearly″ linked to Iraq’s action in Kuwait.