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Customs: Two immigrants offered East Bloc weapons for sale

June 30, 1997

MIAMI (AP) _ Two Lithuanians were accused Monday of trying to sell Soviet-era nuclear weapons to federal agents posing as arms brokers for drug smugglers.

No weapons changed hands, but the pair were caught on audio and video tape negotiating the sale of Bulgarian-made tactical nuclear weapons and nonnuclear surface-to-air missiles, investigators said.

``The significance shows there are people out there who have the ability to move weapons _ strategic weapons _ around the world,″ said Dennis Fagan, agent of charge of the Customs Service in Miami.

Alexander Porgrebeshski, 28, and Alexander Darichev, 36, both Lithuanian nationals, were arrested Friday after they reached a $1.3 million deal for 40 anti-aircraft missiles and transportation to Puerto Rico. The nuclear weapons deal was to follow.

The defendants appeared in federal court Monday on conspiracy charges and were held without bail.

The two had negotiated for two years with two Russian-speaking agents posing as representatives of a Colombian drug cartel, according to a court affidavit filed by U.S. Customs Service agent William Eshleman.

The agents expressed worries that they might be traced if the hand-held missiles were used to shoot down a jetliner, but they were assured that official paperwork would indicate the missiles were in Lithuania.

The negotiators held a series of hotel meetings in Miami and London, and agents recorded conversations in both places.

According to the affidavit, the Lithuanians said that, after two years of negotiations, all but one of the Igla anti-aircraft missiles intended for sale to the agents wound up in Iran instead.

The Lithuanians also were offering Soviet-made Strela missiles, a type favored by revolutionary groups. Strelas shot down Salvadoran air force planes and were captured in the Angolan civil war.

Clinton administration officials have raised concerns about the potential for a black market in former Soviet weapons and the spread of Russian organized crime.

U.S. officials sidestepped questions about whether the two suspected smugglers had Russian mob ties.

``When you’re talking about Russian organized crime and Eastern European groups, it’s a looser conglomeration″ than the crime families of American movies, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie said. ``It doesn’t lessen the danger in any way.″

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