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Nov. 16, 2018 / 11:23 PM GMT
By Andrew Blankstein
A Jordanian-born man faces at least 25 years in federal prison after being convicted in connection with an illegal arm-smuggling scheme that included plans to sell surface to-air missile systems and other military equipment to groups in countries that included Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, prosecutors said Friday.
Rami Najm Asad-Ghanem, 52, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was convicted by a jury on Thursday of conspiracy to use and transfer missile systems designed to destroy aircraft, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California in Los Angeles said.
Asad-Ghanem was arrested on Dec. 8, 2015, by police in Greece. For the charge that he was convicted of on Thursday, he faces a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison, and he is scheduled to be sentenced on March 4.
He previously pleaded guilty late last month to another six charges including violating the Federal Arms Export Control Act, conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering, prosecutors said.
The government argued that Asad-Ghanem sought to broker and transfer anti-aircraft missiles between 2013 and 2015 to clients around the world, as well as procured the services of mercenary missile operators to a Libyan militant faction. Prosecutors said that as a part of that effort, he planned to offer them a $50,000 bonus if they could shoot down Libyan government aircraft, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
At trial no direct evidence was presented that any of the missiles made it to any of the countries, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the case. Asad-Ghanem was living in Egypt at the time of the criminal offenses, prosecutors said.
Asad-Ghanem’s attorney, H. Dean Stewart, said only one Soviet-style Strela missile was recovered at an airport overseas but it was so old and rusty it could not have been fired. He said that the other allegations were based on aspirations.
“He’s an international entrepreneur” involved in construction and other goods shipments like water, Stewart said. “Whatever it was he could make a profit of, he did” and “this was just one small piece of all kinds of businesses,” Stewart said.
The lawyer said none of the crimes happened within the United States, and “the only connection is his U.S. citizenship.” They plan to challenge the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence as unconstitutional.
U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Nick Hanna said in a statement that the case “demonstrates the dangers of underground arms trafficking to the international community and to the security of U.S. forces operating abroad.”
Hanna called it a “complicated case” that involved law enforcement authorities conducting an international investigation, and said the conviction “is a clear message to arms dealers that there will be severe consequences for providing weapons of war through the black market.”
Phil Helsel contributed.