24 August 2007
NEW YORK (AP) - An Armenian immigrant accused of plotting to sell anti-aircraft missiles and other military weapons from the former Soviet Union to an FBI informant was convicted Tuesday along with five co-defendants. . .
Artur Solomonyan could face up to life in prison on charges including arms trafficking conspiracy, firearms trafficking conspiracy, interstate firearms trafficking and illegal transfer and possession of a machine gun.
The charges accused the men of conspiring from December 2003 to March 2005 to import shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, anti-tank guided missiles and machine guns without a license.
The weapons were ''all designed to shoot down airplanes in the sky, all designed to pierce through armored tanks,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc P. Berger said his closing argument.
Berger said the motivation was greed.
''They were opportunists. They were money makers,'' he told jurors.
Solomonyan's lawyer, Louis V. Fasulo, told the jurors the case was set up to entrap his client, who was merely leading on a government informant who had promised to get him a green card.
''It is patently unfair for the government to entrap an individual in a desperate situation,'' he said.
The only weapons actually delivered in the case were a dozen firearms, including a machine gun.
Sentencing for all six men was set for Dec. 14.
Copyright © 2007 Santa Barbara News-Press
United States Attorney
Southern District of New York
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: U.S. ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
JULY 24, 2007 YUSILL SCRIBNER, REBEKAH CARMICHAEL
PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE (212) 637-2600
ARMS TRAFFICKERS FOUND GUILTY IN PLOTS TO SMUGGLE SHOULDER-FIRED SURFACE-TO-AIR MISSILES, ROCKETPROPELLED GRENADES, AND OTHER MILITARY WEAPONS MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that ARTUR SOLOMONYAN, CHRISTIAAN DEWET SPIES, and IOSEB KHARABADZE, were found guilty by jury verdict rendered today of plotting to smuggle shoulderfired surface-to-air missiles (“SAMs”), rocket-propelled grenades (“RPGs”), anti-tank guided missiles, and other high-powered military weapons into the United States for sale. SOLOMONYAN and SPIES, as well as three other defendants, DMITRIY VOROBEYCHIK, NIKOLAI NADIRASHVILI and LEVAN CHVELIDZE, were also found guilty of illegally trafficking in machine guns and other assault weapons. As shown by the evidence at trial:
From December 2003 to March 15, 2005, SOLOMONYAN, SPIES, and KHARABADZE brokered a deal to import RPGs, SAMs, antitank missile systems, and other military weapons from Eastern Europe into the United States, for sale to a confidential informant (“CI”) posing as an arms trafficker. SOLOMONYAN and SPIES met with the CI in New York City on several occasions to discuss the details of their weapons deal, including in-depth review of the specifications and prices of various weapons that the defendants could ship. In June 2004, at a meeting in New York City, SOLOMONYAN and SPIES provided the CI with a price list of weapons provided earlier that day by KHARABADZE – a list that included RPGs, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, AK-47s, and claymore mines. In February 2005, SOLOMONYAN and SPIES provided the CI with digital photographs of military weapons in Armenia that they proposed to import into the United States for the CI. These photographs, which Federal Bureau of Investigation forensics determined were taken in late February 2005, included such weapons as: Surface-to-Air Heat Seeking Anti-Aircraft Missiles, an Anti-Tank Guided Missile and Launcher, a mortar launcher, recoilless anti-tank guns, and fully automatic AK-74 and AK-47 assault rifles.
The FBI arrested the defendants before any of them could travel outside of the United States to obtain these weapons.
In addition, while SOLOMONYAN and SPIES were arranging to import the military weapons from Eastern Europe, they, along with VOROBEYCHIK, NADIRASHVILI, and CHVELIDZE, also sold the CI one machine gun and seven other assault weapons. The assault weapons included a Norinco Model NHM91 semi-automatic assault rifle, an Israel Military Industries Model A Uzi, an Interdynamic Model KG-9 or "TEC-9" semi-automatic assault pistol, a Norinco MAC-90 Sporter semi-automatic assault rifle, three AK-47s, and two conversion kits intended to convert AK-47s into fullyautomatic machine guns. The defendants delivered the weapons to various storage facilities rented by the FBI in New York City, Los Angeles, and Fort Lauderdale.
SOLOMONYAN and SPIES each face a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison. KHARABADZE faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, and VOROBEYCHIK, NADIRASHVILI, and CHVELIDZE each face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. NADIRASHVILI was acquitted of interstate travel in furtherance of unlicensed firearms dealing, but convicted of two other firearm trafficking counts.
The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge RICHARD J. HOLWELL on December 14, 2007. Prior to today’s verdicts, twelve other related defendants were convicted of firearms trafficking offenses in connection with this investigation.
Mr. GARCIA praised the work of the FBI and the NYPD in their handling of this investigation. Mr. GARCIA also expressed his thanks to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for their efforts. Assistant United States Attorneys CHRISTOPHER P. CONNIFF, MARC P. BERGER, and DAVID B. MASSEY are in charge of the prosecution. 07-192 ###
DOJ Press Release
United States Attorney
Southern District of New York MARCH 15, 2005
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
HERBERT HADAD, MEGAN GAFFNEY
PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE (212) 637-2600
FBI JAMES M. MARGOLIN
PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE (212) 384-2715, 2720
NYPD PAUL BROWN (646) 610–8800
U.S. CHARGES 18 WITH ALLEGED PLOT TO IMPORT AND SELL RUSSIAN SHOULDER-FIRED MISSILES, ROCKET PROPELLED GRENADE LAUNCHERS, AND OTHER WEAPONS
DAVID N. KELLEY, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, PASQUALE D'AMURO, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Office of the FBI, and RAYMOND W. KELLY, the New York City Police Commissioner, announced today the unsealing of a complaint in Manhattan federal court charging 18 individuals with various weapons trafficking offenses, including a scheme to smuggle rocket propelled grenade launchers ("RPGs"), shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles ("SAMs"), and other Russian military weapons into the United States for sale. In addition, the defendants are also charged with conspiring to traffic in machineguns and other similar assault weapons, and in fact sold eight such weapons during the course of the investigation. The arrests are the result of a year-long investigation that utilized a confidential informant ("CI") who posed as an arms trafficker selling weapons to terrorists. The FBI's investigation also included courtauthorized wiretaps on seven different phones and interceptions of more than 15,000 calls.
Specifically, the 61-page federal complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court charges ARTUR SOLOMONYAN, CHRISTIAAN DEWET SPIES, IOSEB KHARABADZE, JOSEPH COLPANI, and MICHAEL GUY DEMARE with conspiring to transport destructive devices in interstate and foreign commerce. The complaint also charges 13 other individuals with weapons trafficking for their roles in supplying SOLOMONYAN and SPIES with machineguns and other assault weapons, which were then sold to the CI.
The Complaint alleges that SOLOMONYAN and SPIES, with the help of KHARABADZE, COLPANI, DEMARE, and other unidentified co-conspirators were actively preparing to import RPGs, SAMs, anti-tank missile systems, and other military weapons into the country from Eastern Europe. The CI, it is alleged, had multiple conversations with SOLOMONYAN and SPIES over the course of the conspiracy in which the CI indicated that his clients were terrorists.
According to the Complaint, SOLOMONYAN and SPIES met with the CI on several occasions in New York City to discuss the details of their weapons deals, including in-depth discussions of the specifications and prices of various weapons that the defendants could ship into the United States. The Complaint alleges that, in June 2004, at a meeting in New York City, SOLOMONYAN provided the CI with a list of weapons for sale that included RPGs, stinger missiles, AK-47s, and claymore mines. The Complaint also details numerous telephone calls between the defendants discussing the inner workings of their plot to bring weapons into the country. For example, the Complaint alleges that in January 2005, SPIES spoke on the phone with COLPANI about providing the CI with an RPG. According to the Complaint, as recently as late January 2005, SOLOMONYAN discussed importing 200 RPGs from Armenia for sale to the CI.
Most recently, in late February 2005, SOLOMONYAN and SPIES provided the CI with digital photos of military weapons in Armenia that they proposed to import into the U.S. for sale to the CI. The CI was given the name of a Russian website, a user name, and a password in order to access the 17 digital photos of the weapons. These photos, which FBI forensics has determined were taken in late February 2005, included such weapons as two SA-7b Strella Surface to Air Heat Seeking Anti-Aircraft Missiles; a Russian AT-4 Spigot Anti-Tank Guided Missile and Launcher; a 120 mm mortar launcher; Russian 73 mm recoilless anti-tank guns; and fully automatic AK-74 and AKS assault rifles, according to the Complaint.
SOLOMONYAN and SPIES were arrested last night after meeting one last time with the CI to finalize their plans to travel to Eastern Europe to arrange the importation of the military weapons. The FBI arrested them before they could travel outside of the U.S. to obtain the weapons. The FBI is currently working with Armenian and Russian authorities to secure the weapons and to arrest the responsible parties abroad.
According to the Complaint, while SOLOMONYAN and SPIES were actively arranging the importation of the military weapons from Eastern Europe, they also sold machineguns and assault weapons to the CI. Utilizing the services of various weapons traffickers in New York City, Los Angeles, and Florida, the defendants provided the CI with eight weapons and conspired to sell the CI many more. As alleged in the Complaint, each weapon was delivered by the defendants to storage facilities rented by the FBI on the CI's behalf. On several occasions, SOLOMONYAN or SPIES was surveilled delivering the weapons to various storage locations. Of the eight weapons, three were delivered in New York City, three were delivered in Los Angeles, and two were delivered in Fort Lauderdale. The weapons sold to the CI include an SKS fully-automatic assault rifle; a Norinco Model NHM91; an Israel Military Industries Model A Uzi; an Interdynamic Model KG- 9; a Norinco AK-47; a Norinco MA-90 Sporter; an AK-47 made by GN Romarm SA/Cugir; and an AK-47, BA 36 0543, Arsenal, as well as two conversion kits intended to convert both AK-47's into fullyautomatic machineguns.
SOLOMONYAN, 26, is an Armenian citizen residing in New York and Los Angeles. SPIES, 33, a South African citizen, resides in New York. KHARABADZE, 52, is Georgian and resides on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They, along with seven other defendants, will be presented in Manhattan federal court today. COLPANI, 53, and DEMARE, 50, both live in Florida and were arrested there this morning.
Besides SOLOMONYAN, SPIES, COLPANI, and DEMARE, the other defendants charged with weapons trafficking include: DMITRIY VOROBEYCHIK, 28, of New York; NIKOLAI NADIRASHVILI, 25, of New York; LEVON SOLOMONYAN, 24, of Los Angeles; ALLAH MCQUEEN, 23, of New York; RAJAB CHAVIS, 25, of New York; GAREGIN GASPARYAN, 28, of Los Angeles; MICHAEL JIMENEZ, 35, of Los Angeles; SHAWN JONES, 22, of New York; LEVAN CHVELIDZE, 28, of New York; VATO MACHITIDZE, 26, of New York; TIGRAN GEVORGYAN, 21, of Los Angeles; and ARMAND ABRAMIAN, 27, of Los Angeles.
The six individuals arrested in Los Angeles, and the two arrested in Florida, will be presented in their respective federal courts and then brought to New York to face the current charges.
As a result of the various charges in the Complaint, SOLOMONYAN and SPIES each face a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. COLPANI and DEMARE face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and KHARABADZE faces a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison. The rest of the 13 defendants charged in the Complaint face a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Mr. KELLEY praised the efforts of the FBI and the NYPD for their handling of this investigation. Mr. KELLEY also expressed his thanks to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for their assistance in the investigation. 05-52 ###
Smugglers from eastern Europe almost sold the FBI all of Russia's uranium
Armenian special services detained several people in a case involving an attempt to import arms into the USA, reported RIA "Novosti." This was announced on Thursday by deputy chief Grachya Arutyunyan of the Armenian National Security Service. He did say, in any case, that there was no evidence the weapons under discussion could have been exported to the USA from Armenia.
This is in reference to the arrest of Armenian citizen Artur Solomonyan and the South African Christian Devett Spies on Monday evening in a New York hotel. Another 16 were charged in the sale of eight infantry weapons. This arrest follows a year-long investigation by the FBI. It began after several Americans of South African descent (according to the Associated Press version, demolition experts) told the special services that they had been contacted by some immigrants from eastern Europe who were looking for buyers of arms manufactured in Russia.
During the investigation, according to the FBI representative, the "smugglers" were told that members of Al Qaida wanted to buy Russian weapons.
Over the course of several months negotiations were conducted with members of the group, who showed pictures of arms: automatic weapons, machine guns, anti-tank weapons and grenade-throwers that were alleged to have been manufactured in one of the former USSR republics. They said the best they could do was provide a one-time shipment of weapons-grade uranium to the USA.
According to American media, the weaspons could be obtained from Russia, Chechnia or CIS countries.
As Arutyunyan said, among the Armenian citizens arrested in the USA was Solomonyan's brother, Levon. According to the deputy chief of the National Security Service, both have been sought since 2001 by Armenian police for dodging military service. According to the Armenian special services, the brothers were students at the Selskokhozyaistvennaya Academy and left Armenia in 1998 and 2000 as part of a student exchange program, said Arutyunyan. Meanwhile, as was reported earilier by the New York Times, Artur Solomonyan represented himself as an adept of the Scientology sect in a cultural exchange to get into the USA.
Those arrested also included citizens of Georgia. As US Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles communicated on Wednesday at a press conference, together with citizens of Armenia and a number of other eastern European countries, people charged with exporting Russian weaspon to the USA included Nikoloz Nadirashvili, Vato Machitadze, Iosif Kharabadze and Levan Shvelidze."
The country's minister of foreign affairs Salome Zurabishvili had stated that the weaspons under discussion could have reached the USA from Russia through the Rokskiy tunnel, and then across Georgian and Armenian territory. "Georgia has stated repeatedly that the central powers of Georgia needed to exert more control over the Rokskiy tunnel and other border areas. This is yet another case that shows the necessity of that. Control is necessary not only for the security of Georgia, but also for the many other countries these weapons can reach," underscored the internal intelligence chief. The minister did not present any evidence for this version of the story.