Indictment Details Terror Weapons Smuggling Scheme

The New York Sun
March 16, 2005 Wednesday

Indictment Details Terror Weapons Smuggling Scheme

By CATRIONA STUART, Special to the Sun

Rocket-propelled grenade launchers, claymore mines, AK47s, machine
guns, shoulder-launched missiles, and enriched uranium were among the
weapons arms dealers offered to sell to an FBI informant last year,
federal prosecutors said yesterday.

At least 18 men hatched a complicated scheme to smuggle numerous
assault weapons into America from Russia and Eastern Europe and to
sell the arsenal to an informant posing as an arms trafficker with
connections to terrorist organizations, prosecutors said in an
indictment unsealed in federal court yesterday. During a yearlong FBI
surveillance operation, the men allegedly smuggled in eight weapons
that they stashed in storage facilities in New York, Los Angeles, and
Fort Lauderdale, and had another cache ready to be shipped into the
country, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York,
David Kelley, said.

When they opened the storage locker located in downtown Manhattan,
agents involved in the joint FBI-NYPD investigation found a Norinoco
model long-gun equipped with two loaded bullet clips, an Israeli
military-issue Uzi, 31 rounds of 9mm ammunition, and a 9mm assault
rifle wrapped in a plastic bag from a Gap clothing store.

“This case posted a big ‘Keep Out’ sign for arms traffickers
everywhere,” the city’s police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, said.
“They’re not welcome, especially not in New York.”

According to the indictment, the roster of international arms
smugglers included Artur Solomonyan, 26, an Armenian citizen who
lives in New York and Los Angeles; and Christian Dewet Spies, 33, a
South African citizen who lives in New York.

In a series of surreptitious meetings and coded telephone
conversations in which they referred to assault rifles and
shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles as “puppies” and “stingers,”
Mr. Spies allegedly enlisted the informant’s help in securing a buyer
for a stash of weapons held by a contact affiliated with the Russian
mafia. Mr. Spies believed that the informant intended to sell the
weapons to terrorists of Middle Eastern descent, prosecutors said.

Messrs. Solomonyan and Spies allegedly orchestrated a deal to provide
the informant with approximately $2.5 million worth of assault
rifles, explosive mines, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and more
using an informal network of arms traffickers in Miami, New York, Los
Angeles, and Eastern Europe, prosecutors said.

As late as February, police said, the two men had given the informant
a username and password to a Russian email account that contained
e-mail messages with photos of 17 additional weapons available for
purchase.

For their roles, Messrs. Solomonyan and Spies, who were both in this
country illegally, have been charged with several counts of weapons
trafficking and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

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