Tags: kassar | arms | FARC | rebels

Arms Dealer Gets 30 Years for Selling to FARC Rebels

Wednesday, 25 Feb 2009 07:44 AM

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NEW YORK -- A Syrian native whom U.S. prosecutors called one of the world's most prolific arms dealers for decades was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Wednesday for conspiring to sell weapons to Colombian rebels.

Monzer al-Kassar, 63, a longtime resident of Spain known as the "Prince of Marbella" for his lifestyle in the glitzy seaside town, was convicted in November of agreeing to sell millions of dollars of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Calling Kassar a "sophisticated person" whose main motivation was to make money, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said he and his right-hand man, Felipe Moreno Godoy, could not escape the "overwhelming" videotaped evidence of the weapons deal that turned out to be a U.S.-backed sting operation.

They agreed to sell "huge quantities of serious weapons to what they believed was a terrorist organization who would use these weapons, amongst other things, to kill Americans and wreak havoc," the judge said.

Moreno Godoy, a 59-year-old Chilean, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

A federal jury convicted Kassar of masterminding the deal that included 15 surface-to-air missiles, and thousands of assault and sniper rifles and rocket propelled grenade launchers for a profit of $1 million.

Prosecutors said he made the deal knowing the FARC would use the weapons against U.S. helicopters and citizens to dissuade American efforts to disrupt the cocaine trade.

During the sentencing, Kassar asked for leniency by quoting Jesus Christ, the Koran and an old Arabic poem before saying he was not "against Americans, America or against any other kind of nations."

The prosecution case was based largely on evidence gathered by two undercover operatives who posed as FARC arms buyers and videotaped negotiations in Spain with Kassar and Moreno.

Defense lawyers said Kassar was a legitimate arms merchant who, when dealing with U.S. informants, was instead spying on them for Spanish intelligence.

During sentencing, Rakoff called Kassar "a man of many faces" who lied to all, before later adding: "It's a tragedy that a person as intelligent has spent so much of his life in activities that were certainly not calculated to advance the human race."

The charges included conspiring to kill American nationals and officers, conspiring to acquire anti-aircraft missiles and providing support to a terrorist organization.

He was arrested at Madrid airport in June 2007 and a year later was extradited after Spain received assurances from U.S. authorities he would face neither the death penalty nor a life sentence without chance of parole.

Kassar has been selling weapons since the 1970s to the Palestinian Liberation Front and clients in Nicaragua, Bosnia, Croatia, Iran, Iraq and Somalia, according to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid.

In 1995, he was tried and acquitted of supplying arms that were used in the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship of the coast of Egypt.

Lisa Klinghoffer, whose wheelchair-bound father died after he was shot and thrown overboard during the hijacking, said after the sentencing, "Justice has finally been served."

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

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