Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Jetliner missile plot trial begins

Posted on 01/04/2005 9:50:42 AM PST by Calpernia

A Briton went on trial in Newark, N.J., Tuesday accused of trying to sell missiles to Islamic terrorists so they could shoot down a U.S. airliner.

In the case, Indian-born Hemant Lakhani, 69, faces 25 years in jail if convicted for allegedly offering to sell Russian shoulder-launched anti-aircraft weapons to a federal informant posing as an Islamic terrorist.


But the people Lakhani believed were selling the weapons system to him in Russia were also working for the feds -- the Russian Federal Security Bureau, successor to the KGB. And the missile had been rendered inert before it even left the factory.


(Excerpt) Read more at ...

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; News/Current Events; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: dentalsupplies; globaljihad; jihadineurope; lakhani; missile; missilesting; newark; rehman; riceexport; riceimport; russia; shoe; terroristfunding
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-36 next last
Original Store:

How 2-year sting brought down missile deal Prosecutors call case a terror plot. Others say it was just a bungled attempt to make some money

Sunday, April 04, 2004

BY JOHN P. MARTIN Star-Ledger Staff

Congratulations flowed after FBI agents burst into an airport hotel suite near Newark last August and arrested Hemant Lakhani, a British exporter, for trying to sell missiles to terrorists.

Attorney General John Ashcroft hailed the investigation as a victory against terrorism. U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie called the case "an incredible triumph."

President Bush told reporters, "The fact that we were able to sting this guy is a pretty good example of what we're doing in order to protect the American people."

The elaborate sting began when an FBI informant, who said he worked for Somali terrorists, asked Lakhani for missiles to use against U.S. jetliners. It ended nearly two years later after undercover Russian agents furnished Lakhani a fake missile and helped ship it across the ocean.

But a closer look at the case -- including a review of more than 100 conversations taped during the probe, interviews with legal and weapons experts, and an examination of court records and other documents -- casts doubt on just how significant the prosecution really is.

Instead, a portrait emerges of Lakhani as little more than a 68-year-old failed clothing merchant who, desperate for money and full of bluster, stumbled into a highly orchestrated sting at a time when the United States was eager for success against terrorism.


a.. The informant who brought Lakhani into the sting, Mohammed Habib Rehman, is a small-time swindler who has left a trail of more than $200,000 in court judgments and unpaid debts while informing for the government. Rehman, who sometimes called himself Haji, continued to work for the FBI even after a former federal agent who had worked extensively with him warned the bureau that Rehman couldn't be trusted.

a.. Lakhani, described by Christie as "a significant international arms dealer" whose arrest spared lives, had brokered only one arms sale, the legal purchase of 11 armored personnel carriers by Angola. It took him two years to close that transaction.

a.. Despite 16 months of pleading from Rehman, most of which was recorded by agents, Lakhani failed to find anyone willing to sell him a missile. He was discouraged, nearly broke and ready to quit last spring when agents of the Russian Federal Security Service entered the case to complete the transaction.

a.. With the deal settled, Lakhani still bungled the delivery, inadvertently shipping the would-be weapon to Baltimore instead of its intended destination, Newark. Unbeknownst to Lakhani, government agents then escorted the missile to New Jersey.

Lakhani's attorney, Henry Klingeman, contends his client was the victim of entrapment, and that if a crime occurred, it was because of extraordinary steps by counterterrorism agents.

"The only terrorist attack prevented here was a fictional plot conceived by the government to entrap Mr. Lakhani," Klingeman wrote in motions submitted to the trial judge.

Christie, who with two assistants will prosecute the case later this month, has declined to discuss the details of the investigation. But in past public statements, he has countered that Lakhani was a willing and able participant in the deal, and that he knew his buyer wanted the weapons to attack the United States.

"This is not someone who was just a businessman looking to make a buck," Christie said after Lakhani's indictment on terrorism, weapons and money laundering charges in December.

"As we've investigated," he said then, "we've become convinced that this is also someone who, at least in some way, was a true believer in the cause that America should be attacked and that its citizens should be killed."

The evidence shows Lakhani's acquaintances included a notorious Indian ganglord wanted for a 1993 bombing in Mumbai, India. In phone calls to the informant, Rehman, Lakhani called the arms trade a "shady business" that required bribes. He sometimes used code words such as "porridge" and "shoe" to refer to the missile, and once told the informant, in an apparent reference to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, that Osama bin Laden "did a good thing."

Their conversations, translated by the FBI into English from Urdu and Hindi, also show Lakhani clearly understood his buyer wanted to launch a devastating attack on America.

"If 15 planes come down at the same time, they will be shaken," Lakhani told Rehman minutes before his arrest on Aug. 12, as agents recorded the meeting from an adjoining suite.

But prosecutors have acknowledged that Lakhani has no known criminal record or terrorist links. Experts who track the small arms market also say they had never heard of Lakhani. They say they doubt he was anything but an inexperienced opportunist.

"He was particularly clumsy," said Loretta Bondi, a scholar at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a former U.N. consultant on international security and illegal arms.

Bondi said about 200 legal and illegal arms brokers dominate the trade worldwide, often with impunity, but Lakhani cannot be counted among them.

"There is a steady cast of characters," she said. "The real ones have ties to (government and military officials). That's what makes them kind of untouchable."

In letters and jailhouse interviews with The Star-Ledger, Lakhani did not deny trying to broker the missile deal. But, he said, he was pressed and coached by the informant nearly every step of the way.

"I am nothing, I am nothing," Lakhani said from the Passaic County Jail, where he has been held without bail since August. "I am zero."


He was less modest when he and Rehman looked over the missile in a Wyndham Newark Airport Hotel suite last summer. Rehman wanted 50 more. Lakhani suggested a coordinated attack across America.

"If it happens 10 or 15 places simultaneously, say Sunday morning at 10 o'clock ...," Lakhani said, according to a transcript of their recorded conversation.

Rehman interrupted, "You mean at different airports at the same time?"

"Yes, yes," Lakhani replied. "Nothing else. We just have to cause the explosion."

The meeting in the hotel room was the final act in a story that unfolded like a Cold War spy novel. Built by intelligence agencies on three continents, it included shadowy meetings in the United Arab Emirates and Moscow, a money trail from New York to London to Geneva, Switzerland, and the climactic rendezvous overlooking the runways of Newark Liberty International Airport.

The supporting cast was small but intriguing: a Manhattan jeweler, a fugitive terrorist from India, a London accountant and a band of Ukrainians who dabbled on the edges of the weapons black market. Linking them all was Lakhani, the squat, Indian-born merchant with dyed black hair who bounced from country to country chasing deals.

He and Rehman had been introduced nearly two years earlier but were separated by decades and diverse backgrounds.

Lakhani moved from India to London in 1958 and spent decades riding a roller coaster of business success and failure, primarily as a clothing manufacturer. His wife Kusum had won praise for her charity work in London's Indian community. Their only child, Sanjay, ran his own business in New York.

But the market for Lakhani's Indian-style women's blouses fizzled in the late 1980s. He declared bankruptcy and became a freelance middleman, negotiating deals for commodities ranging from oil to foodstuffs, and constantly shuttling between Europe and the Middle East.

One client was Ashwini Puri, an Indian entrepreneur who Lakhani says he had known for decades. Puri used Lakhani as a ground-level broker to handle the minutia of business negotiations.

Lakhani said his contacts, multilingual skills and willingness to travel made him a valuable asset. "I'm a great salesman," he said in a phone interview from jail. "I can find you anything you want. That's Lakhani."

Puri was a prominent banker in India, but his interests were diverse. One of his companies, Mohan International Ltd., touted in brochures that it "has been supplying defence equipment to the world's best armies for over 15 years."

Legal arms sales are typically multimillion-dollar transactions between nations or their sanctioned contractors. But those who monitor the arms trade say there are boundless opportunities for fringe players to profit at every step of the deal, from arranging the initial contacts to completing the delivery.

Experts say Puri was virtually unknown among arms traders, most likely a second-tier dealer who tried to make money reselling unused or older weapons to smaller nations or armies.

One such opportunity emerged in 1999.

After a 73-day border war with Pakistan, India announced plans to buy a weapons-locating radar. UkrSpetsExport, the state-run Ukrainian arms agency that had become a notable arms supplier after the breakup of the Soviet Union, was on the list of possible suppliers.

Puri dispatched Lakhani to the company's Kiev headquarters to offer their services lobbying the Indian government in the deal. The Ukrainians declined their help, Lakhani said, but his meeting led to more talks with UkrSpetsExport.

For several months, Lakhani and Puri tried to buy mortars, rockets and planes for the Sri Lankan army from the Ukrainians, according to faxes and handwritten notes that agents later found in Lakhani's home. That deal also failed.

The men eventually succeeded in brokering the legal sale of 11 armored personnel carriers from UkrSpetsExport to the Angolan government. Though a relatively minor arrangement, it stalled for almost two years and was completed last summer.

Lakhani expected to earn $55,000 for the transaction, but said Puri never paid him. Puri was murdered two months ago at an Angola hotel. Local press reports said $1 million in diamonds were missing from his room.

Lakhani insisted in prison interviews that the money was not important. He maintained he had profited handsomely brokering other deals, including rice and perfume.

But records show that financial success had become elusive for Lakhani. Last year, creditors threatened to foreclose on his $470,000 London house and auction his belongings because he failed to pay taxes.

In papers filed with court officials after his arrest, he described himself as a self-employed but retired consultant who earned $25,000 a year. He reported just one asset: a BMW car worth $5,000.


Rehman promised Lakhani the missile deal would make them rich. "We won't have to worry about money," he said in one phone call.

Rehman, 43, has had his own financial troubles, according to public records and interviews with people who know him. Rehman did not respond to a request for an interview. Federal prosecutors have refused to discuss Rehman or identify him in court documents related to the Lakhani case.

Since arriving in the United States from Pakistan in 1996, he has lived with his family in at least four states, holding mostly low-wage jobs. His most consistent work has been as a paid informant for U.S. law enforcement.

Charles Lee, 59, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent, said he recruited Rehman as an informant around 1993, when Lee was assigned to the agency's office in Lahore, Pakistan. Rehman worked in a family textile company and had many contacts in the region.

In his first case, Rehman lured a fugitive drug trafficker into a trap set by U.S. agents, Lee said.

"He did it boldly," Lee recalled in an interview. "The DEA loved (Rehman) for producing this guy."

Rehman began to regularly help build cases. He developed a reputation for being fearless and could earn tens of thousands of dollars for a major prosecution. "We had a pretty good run with him," Lee said.

That run ended in 1996 when a suspected heroin smuggler discovered Rehman was a U.S. operative and dispatched someone to kill him, Lee said. Within hours, agents whisked Rehman and his family to the United States. They settled in New York and have since lived in several locations in the Midwest.

Lee returned to the United States in 1997 and retired two years later. In early 1999, he said, Rehman tracked him down. He was broke, his wife was ill and they were struggling to care for their five children. He had no green card, barely spoke English and couldn't find work.

As the agent who first recruited him, Lee said, he felt partly responsible for Rehman's fate. Rehman once had risked his life for the U.S. government, Lee said, but now had been abandoned. He agreed to help.

"We had been through a lot," he said. "I felt some allegiance."

Lee said he arranged a meeting between Rehman and FBI agents in Minneapolis in the spring of 1999 and encouraged the agents to use Rehman in terrorism investigations. Though they never discussed it, Lee said he assumed Rehman began working for the FBI.

That fall, Rehman proposed to Lee that they become partners in a venture importing and reselling basmati rice, a high-quality rice popular among Middle Eastern and African immigrants. Rehman promised he had the overseas contacts to get the rice, but he needed help distributing it. Lee said he initially resisted but then relented. He was looking for something to do in retirement, he said.

The partnership soured within months. Lee said Rehman sold the same shipment of rice to two different buyers and pocketed nearly $20,000. Lee said he settled the accounts but ended all contact with Rehman. Not long after, he began meeting or hearing about others who also lost money to Rehman, he said.

Court records show Rehman's debts had been building before his dealings with Lee. His landlord in Olathe, Kan., won more than $4,000 in judgments against him in 1998. A year later, a judge in Johnson County, Kan., issued a felony warrant for Rehman after he wrote a bad check for nearly $900.

In 2001, a Wisconsin bank won more than $6,000 in judgments against him when he defaulted on credit card loans. Since then, judges have entered an additional $120,000 in judgments against him stemming from bad rice deals arranged by Rehman and his importing company, House of Rice. None has been paid.

"Nobody could really run the guy down," Lee said. "He was like the wind."

In the summer of 2000, Lee said he urged FBI agents to stop using Rehman. He also gave the FBI a nine-page letter outlining his experience with Rehman and the allegations from others, including a Minneapolis grocer who claimed Rehman stole more than $58,000 from him.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Star-Ledger, also said Rehman boasted of his ability to smuggle drugs from Pakistan and to arrange contract killings.

Lee said he felt responsible for recommending Rehman to the FBI and hoped the letter and phone calls would convince agents that Rehman couldn't be trusted. "My motive was solely to stop this guy," Lee said.

He said the FBI never called him.

Bureau officials declined to comment, according to Special Agent Sherri Evanina, a spokesperson for the FBI's Newark division.


After the terror attacks, Rehman became such a valuable asset that FBI agents from Minneapolis and Newark were fighting to claim him as their own, according to one federal agent. Newark won, and he soon began work on the Lakhani case.

The use of informants is one of the oldest tools in law enforcement. Agents rely on their street contacts, cultural or ethnic backgrounds or criminal knowledge to help gather intelligence and identify or snare potential suspects. Many cooperate to win leniency after being caught in a crime. Others, such as Rehman, work solely for money.

In both cases, Justice Department guidelines require informants to be registered and subject to substantive background checks and an annual review. Sometimes, former and current law enforcement officials say, the agent and informant will sign a contract that outlines expectations and compensation.

Full-time paid informants such as Rehman can earn tens of thousands of dollars for a routine prosecution and hundreds of thousands of dollars for their work in a major case, agents say.

But the rules can be flexible, especially in terrorism and foreign intelligence cases.

"In the currency of cooperators in today's world, counterterrorism informants are the most valuable," said David Irwin, a former federal prosecutor.

Such arrangements have always been a sensitive issue within law enforcement agencies.

"It's kind of a balance," said Robert Bloom, author of the book "Ratting: The Use and Abuse of Informants in the American Criminal Justice System." "Everybody in the business knows you have to make deals with bad guys to catch bad guys."

In January 2001, after several scandals involving informants, Attorney General Janet Reno implemented new guidelines calling for more stringent vetting and monitoring of informants by Justice Department officials.

"The basic rule of thumb is that before you bring someone into the fold, you do a certain amount of due diligence," said Donald Stern, the former U.S. attorney for Massachusetts who helped draft the guidelines.

"The short answer is that informants are not necessarily good people," Stern said. "Sometimes you've got to hold your nose and do the best with what you have."


What led Rehman to Lakhani is unclear. Agents didn't begin taping their phone calls until December 2001, but the transcripts suggest the men already knew each other.

Lakhani said his first conversation with Rehman occurred two months earlier in Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. It was arranged, he said, by Abdul Qayyum, a notorious Indian ganglord suspected in a series of 1993 bomb attacks in Mumbai.

Lakhani said he met Qayyum through a friend and that he and Qayyum often frequented the same Dubai hotel. He said he knew Qayyum's reputation, and that Qayyum knew he was an exporter and had tried to enter the arms trade. But Lakhani insists he did no business with Qayyum.

Weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Lakhani said, he traveled to Dubai to look for potential investors for a $250 million oil refinery project in India. While there, Lakhani said, Qayyum encouraged him to speak with a friend named "Haji" who had ties to wealthy Saudis.

Lakhani said he and his potential investor spoke briefly by phone and agreed to talk again. They did so in December and in the same conversation Rehman asked Lakhani about arms, according to a transcript. Soon afterward, Lakhani faxed Rehman weapons brochures.

FBI agents listened as the men met for the first time in New York in January 2002, according to transcripts. Each had a purpose: Lakhani mentioned the oil refinery; Rehman brought up weapons.

Rehman told Lakhani he represented the Ogaden Liberation Front, a rebel group seeking independence in a region between Somalia and Ethiopia. He said the rebels wanted weapons but could not get them legally.

It was the first and only time in the taped conversations that Rehman identified his employers by name. In later conversations, he told Lakhani he had met "the bearded guys in Afghanistan" and once made a reference to a group "known as al Qaeda or something like."

For his part, Lakhani never pressed Rehman or expressed any interest in knowing about the buyer or buyers during their many phone conversations.

In April 25, 2002, as FBI agents listened, the two men met again at the Wyndham hotel across from Newark Airport. This time, Rehman got more specific. He said his "brother" -- whom he called "a good Muslim with Muslim sentiments" -- wanted to buy a missile.

"What he needs right now is for the shoulder," he said.

Lakhani said he understood. He suggested a Russian-made Igla missile. "I can get that," he said.

Rehman said he wanted the missile delivered to New Jersey. He told Lakhani he would not have to worry about the getting the weapon past U.S. officials.

"You ship it from there and it will be our responsibility to send it forward," he said. "We have the sources."

He promised cash. "You know that this is not a legal business," he said. Lakhani's reply was unintelligible.

A day after their meeting, Rehman called Lakhani. "I trust you," he said. "I consider you like a brother. You are also my best friend."


By May, the deal appeared to be taking shape. When Lakhani told Rehman that weapons suppliers would be reluctant to sell a single missile, Rehman promised his clients would buy 200. But first, he said, they wanted a sample. Just one.

Lakhani said the arrangements were nearly done.

"That is a wonderful thing," Rehman replied.

Lakhani did not tell Rehman, but he had no hope of buying the missile from UkrSpetsExport without an end-user certificate, a document issued by governments and required under international accords to prevent black market arms sales.

Instead, he approached a smaller, less established trading company, Laberia Corp., which was based in Cyprus but had offices in Ukraine.

As the weeks dragged on, Lakhani's inability to close the deal grew apparent. Rehman became openly frustrated. He told Lakhani he wanted the missiles for use on Sept. 11, 2002, the anniversary of the attacks.

"It is getting too late. We need it as soon as possible," he said in August. "Boss, please. It is very important."

Documents show that Lakhani was trying to fulfill the order. In late August, he received a fax from the director of Laberia Corp. outlining costs: $87,000 for a missile and $23,000 for a launcher.

But Lakhani warned Rehman that "everyone is afraid these days" and that his suppliers said they needed an end-user certificate, real or fake.

The anniversary arrived; the missile did not.

"Load the one item on the ship and then come," Rehman begged Lakhani that day. "Come next week. Please load it now."

The conversation repeated itself a half-dozen times in the ensuing weeks. Each time, Rehman pressed Lakhani to complete the delivery. Each time, Lakhani promised it was all but done.

In October, Laberia requested a $30,000 down payment for the weapon. At Lakhani's direction, Rehman paid through a hawala, a centuries-old system developed in India and used worldwide to transfer money.

Rehman gave the cash to Yehuda Abraham, a New York City jeweler, who in turn instructed an associate overseas to give money to Vijay Raja, an associate of Lakhani. Raja deposited the money in a Swiss account.

Still, there was no missile.

"You know, Mr. Lakhani, I am not doing it for fun's sake," Rehman said in November. "I know, I know," Lakhani replied. "It is not a nonserious matter. It is very dangerous also. It is not very easy, also."

For the first time, he voiced doubts. "Listen to me, this job is already costing me too much money," he said.

Lakhani professed to be negotiating deals for other commodities. He signed one contract with Laberia to buy metal plates for one of Puri's manufacturing plants. But Rehman was his only real weapons customer, he said. The market was difficult, he said.

"Boss, did you get any customers from that side?" Rehman asked him in one conversation. "These days, there are so many customers."

"It is not easy," Lakhani complained. "They have to know you before they deal with you. ... Let me know if you have any customers?"


By the end of February 2003, Lakhani said he was prepared to walk away from the missile deal. Representatives from Laberia told him it would be too difficult to smuggle the weapon from Cyprus, he said in an interview. They also wanted the full payment before handing over the missile.

Lakhani complained to Rehman that he had already spent too much of his own money traveling and arranging the deal, and that he had received nothing from the down payment. The money was in Vijay Raja's account, waiting to be forwarded to the seller.

Rehman begged him to stay. "Whatever you say you spent, we will pay," he said in one taped conversation. "Just give us a rough amount."

The next week, federal agents wired $56,000 -- the remainder of the missile cost -- to Raja's account in Geneva. Lakhani was no closer to getting the missile, but he told Rehman otherwise.

"The package is ready," he promised in March. "I have seen it myself."

Three days later, he vowed it would be on the next ship to the United States. After another week passed, Rehman scolded Lakhani like a teacher to a student.

"Boss, do you know that the shipment comes from there every day?" he asked.

"Yes, I agree that shipment goes every day," Lakhani replied.

"Then what is the problem? If you have given them a job to do, they should have done it right away," Rehman insisted.

Lakhani was humble. "Yes, you're right," he said.

In April, he said, an official from the United Arab Emirates invited him to a trade meeting in Russia. By then, Lakhani said, he assumed the deal was dead because Laberia officials said they could probably not smuggle the weapon onto an outbound ship.

After he arrived in Moscow, Lakhani said, a Laberia executive called his hotel and asked to meet in the lobby. There, the executive explained that the company couldn't furnish the missile but introduced Lakhani to another man who might be able to help. His name was Vladimir, Lakhani said.

Over dinner at a Chinese restaurant, Lakhani said, Vladimir calmly promised to get him a missile by the summer.

Lakhani says he now believes Vladimir was a Russian agent. Federal officials have refused to detail the Russians' role in the case, except to acknowledge in court filings that the Russian Federal Security Service independently "infiltrated" the weapons network and that its agents posed as the missile sellers. In court filings on Friday, the prosecution said the Russians became involved "when they became aware of the arms smuggling activities of Lakhani" in Russia.

After his meeting with Vladimir, Lakhani's conversations with Rehman dwindled. He spent much of June in India trying to complete the refinery project, he said. When he returned to London, Vladimir called with a message.

"We are ready for you," he said.


On July 14, Lakhani and Rehman traveled to Russia to see the shipment. As agents from the FBI, Secret Service and U.S. Customs secretly watched, Lakhani and Rehman inspected the weapon -- a dummy replica -- that the Russian agents said would be shipped to the United States.

They discussed the shipping arrangements, and Lakhani gave Vladimir a handwritten invoice. "I hereby promise to pay to Vladimir the sum of $70,000 U.S. dollars for the supply of goods and parts and I will release the sum upon receipt of necessary documents in St. Petersburg," it read.

Three days later, the bill of lading was submitted in Moscow. It described "dental equipment" to be shipped from St. Petersburg to the United States. The recipient was listed as House of Rice, Rehman's importing company, with an address in Avenel, N.J.

Rehman was elated. Later that month, he told Lakhani that his clients "have decided to give you $500,000 for this job because in this matter you did a great deal of foot work."

Still, Lakhani was nervous.

"Are you saying your prayers regularly?" he asked Rehman one night in late July.

"Yes, when you called me, I was saying my prayers," Rehman answered.

"Okay. May Allah help us," said Lakhani, a Hindu. "To be honest, I am afraid."

He arrived at the Wyndham about 11 a.m. Aug. 12 and proceeded to Rehman's suite. Rehman first chided Lakhani for sending the missile to the wrong port -- Baltimore instead of New York -- a mistake he said he could not repeat with the rest of the missiles.

Rehman said his sources were still able to get the weapon past U.S. borders and to New Jersey. He was ebullient.

"Boss, what did I tell you?" Rehman said. "I told you I can smuggle anything into America. Didn't I tell you?"

Lakhani was stunned. "I can't believe what we have done," he said, eyeing the crate.

The meeting was punctuated by cell phone calls and discussions about the rest of the missiles. Rehman promised to send another payment that day through Abraham, the Manhattan jeweler. He said his contact was waiting in the lobby with the money.

"You sit down," he told Lakhani. "I will return in a moment."

As Rehman left, Lakhani asked: "I will close the door. Okay?"

Moments later, agents stormed the suite.


Immediately after the arrest, agents showed Lakhani the tape and other evidence.

"I'm sorry," he said, according to one agent's report. "You know everything." He told them he was "a fool" driven by greed.

That afternoon, agents raided Abraham's office and arrested him and a third man, Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed, who was waiting to witness the money transfer. Prosecutors later said neither man was aware the transaction involved missiles. Both have agreed to plead guilty to charges over the illegal money transfer.

Vijay Raja, Lakhani's contact in London, also is cooperating with agents there.

Last month, the judge in Lakhani's case ruled that he was no longer able to afford a private attorney and approved court funding for his defense. Klingeman, his defense attorney, said he plans to use some of the money to hire an independent expert to challenge the translations of the taped conversations.

He also has asked U.S. District Court Judge Katharine Hayden to compel the government to identify its cooperating witness and turn over information about his background. In motions filed late Friday, prosecutors argued that they should not have to reveal the information until the week before the trial.

Hayden has scheduled an April 26 hearing for arguments in the case.

A trial is not likely to occur until the fall.

1 posted on 01/04/2005 9:50:43 AM PST by Calpernia
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: KylaStarr; Cindy; StillProud2BeFree; nw_arizona_granny; Revel; Velveeta; Dolphy; genefromjersey; ...


2 posted on 01/04/2005 9:52:31 AM PST by Calpernia (
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia
Okay, so the guy isn't The Godfather.

Just because he isn't wildly successful in his chosen field is no reason to let him go. The b*st*rd needs to be punished. Big time.

3 posted on 01/04/2005 9:57:51 AM PST by newgeezer (...until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: newgeezer

Who is being let go?

4 posted on 01/04/2005 9:59:53 AM PST by Calpernia (
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia

Thanks for the ping!

5 posted on 01/04/2005 10:03:25 AM PST by Alamo-Girl (Please donate monthly to Free Republic!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia

I think he/she meant that just because the guy is a bumbling idiot doesn't mean he should be released under the guise that this was somehow a set-up, as is implied in the story. I agree...he had a choice to participate or not, he made the wrong decision and should therefore be held accountable for his actions based on intent.

6 posted on 01/04/2005 10:16:46 AM PST by ravingnutter
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia
Who is being let go?

No one. Seems like your John P. Martin might be deeply saddened by that fact.

7 posted on 01/04/2005 10:23:29 AM PST by newgeezer (What part of "shall not be infringed" does our nanny state fail to understand?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: newgeezer
Actually, I've spoken to John Martin about this case. The article is not really focusing on support for Lakhani. But more of an insight on Rehman.

Rehman is a paid informant. He has outstanding judgments out on him, he is shady and if you read this again, Rehman contacted Russia to set this entire sting up.
8 posted on 01/04/2005 10:27:45 AM PST by Calpernia (
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia

Thanks for the ping.

9 posted on 01/04/2005 10:32:40 AM PST by Liz (Wise men are instructed by reason; lesser men, by experience; the ignorant, by necessity. Cicero)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia

Thanks for the Ping.

You do spin a good story, a scary one.

Now I set here wondering how many of these came in, that were not caught?

This cannot be the only mn in the world selling weapons for use against America.

10 posted on 01/04/2005 10:48:13 AM PST by nw_arizona_granny (Today, please pray for God's miracle, we are not going to make it without him.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia
if you read this again, Rehman contacted Russia to set this entire sting up.

Thanks so much but, that was obvious by my initial reading. Is it typical for you to assume those of us who don't see things your way are just lazy and/or slow?

It doesn't bother me in the least that a greedy, murderous scumbag was lured into a trap -- by another scumbag? So what?! -- before he had a chance to realize his heart's desire of doing the real thing to real people.

11 posted on 01/04/2005 10:56:48 AM PST by newgeezer (Just my opinion, of course. Your mileage may vary.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: newgeezer

Ok, yes, now I will assume you are slow. No one is defending anything Lakhani. The point of this post and the John Martin article is more of a focus on who Rehman is.

12 posted on 01/04/2005 10:59:06 AM PST by Calpernia (
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia
Ok, yes, now I will assume you are slow. No one is defending anything Lakhani.

From the article:

Instead [of this being a victory against terrorism], a portrait emerges of Lakhani as little more than a 68-year-old failed clothing merchant who, desperate for money and full of bluster, stumbled into a highly orchestrated sting at a time when the United States was eager for success against terrorism.

Maybe I'm slow but, to me, that reads like a defense of Lakhani. Or, at least, an appeal for clemency.

The point of ... the John Martin article is more of a focus on who Rehman is.

And my dual point all along has been (1) Lakhani ought to be treated like the mass murderer he so very much wanted to be, and (2) it doesn't matter who Rehman is.

So very sorry if I'm not as quick as you are. Smart ass.

13 posted on 01/04/2005 11:20:06 AM PST by newgeezer (Just my opinion, of course. Your mileage may vary.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: newgeezer

Instead [of this being a victory against terrorism], a portrait emerges of Lakhani as little more than a 68-year-old failed clothing merchant who, desperate for money and full of bluster, stumbled into a highly orchestrated sting at a time when the United States was eager for success against terrorism.

How does this 'support' Lakhani? He was a failed broker that traveled the world getting into all sorts of deals (even oil...I found a very interesting broker connection there)

(1) Lakhani ought to be treated like the mass murderer he so very much wanted to be

No one here said he SHOULDN'T be.

(2) it doesn't matter who Rehman is.

YES it does! And if you don't want to explore that, please go to another thread.

Rehman has connections all the way back to Pakistan with drug lords. He is on a wanted list here, HE contacted the Russian officials to set up this missile sting (only OUR STATE Depart. can do that) and federal agents said NOT to use him.

Now go post to someone that is as quick as you.

14 posted on 01/04/2005 11:34:16 AM PST by Calpernia (
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia
No one here said he SHOULDN'T be [treated like a mass murderer].

Maybe it's just me but, I can't imagine too many people demanding the death penalty for failed clothing merchants who stumble into highly-orchestrated government stings.

Now go post to someone that is as quick as you.

Now, as I should have replied back when you started the pissing match with your little "if you go back and read the article" comment, go      yourself.

15 posted on 01/04/2005 11:42:43 AM PST by newgeezer (Just my opinion, of course. Your mileage may vary.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia

Note from below: Mohammed Habib Rehman = Mr. Haji

Brit-Indian admits laundering $86,000 for Hemant Lakhani

A London financier of Indian origin has admitted to laundering $86,000 for UK-based Indian, Hemant Lakhani, who was arrested last year in New Jersey for selling shoulder-fired missiles to an FBI informant who had posed as a terrorist.

At a US federal court hearing in Newark, Manthena "Vijay" Raja, who has agreed to testify against Lakhani when the trial begins in November, said he knew the money was payment for a missile.

Since the 18-month FBI sting operation that led to the arrest of Lakhani in August 2003, Raja, 44, is the third person to plead guilty in the case. Prosecutors said Lakhani, 69, arranged the $5 million sale of 51 shoulder-fired missiles to an undercover informant who said he wanted them to bring down US jetliners.

Lakhani was arrested after the delivery of the first missile, which was actually a harmless replica sold to him by undercover Russian agents as part of the sting operation. Lakhani has maintained that he is not a terrorist. His lawyer Henry Klingeman has said Lakhani was a victim of entrapment by government operatives.

Raja told the court that he had met Lakhani four years ago and in 2002 he agreed to help facilitate the missile purchase. He admitted faxing weapons brochures and accepting money for Lakhani from a man in the US known to him as "Mr Haji". The payment for the first missile came in two transfers. Raja said he gave the first $30,000 to Lakhani and deposited the second amount, $56,500, in a Swiss bank account.

Claiming to be a financial services and asset management professional, Raja said he was aware the money was part of an illegal arms deal between Lakhani and Haji. According to an American media report earlier this year, Haji is allegedly a paid FBI informant named Mohammed Habib Rehman. He is expected to be the key witness at Lakhani's trial.

Raja, who faces between 37 to 46 months in prison, made a plea bargain to a single money laundering count and agreed to forfeit the total sum of $86,500. Prosecutors agreed to ask the judge for a lighter sentence based on his assistance in the case. Raja will be allowed to return to London after posting $100,000 cash bail. His defense attorney Paul Brickfield said his client is a businessman and a born-again Christian who harboured no ill will toward the United States.

Two other defendants, Yehuda Abraham, a New York jeweller, and Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed, an Indian national, await sentencing. They have pleaded guilty to operating an unlicensed money transmitting service in connection with the arms plot, and admitted they arranged to secretly transfer thousands of dollars for Lakhani. But both men maintained that they did not know the money was part of a missile deal. Lakhani is held at the Passaic County Jail in Paterson. His trial is expected to last at least two months.

16 posted on 01/04/2005 12:49:23 PM PST by Calpernia (
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia

Jury selection starts in missile sting case
Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Jury selection began yesterday for a British businessman accused of selling a shoulder-fired missile to an undercover FBI informant who posed as a terrorist.

More than 600 potential jurors could be called to federal court in Newark before attorneys settle on the 12 panelists and four alternates who will begin hearing the case against Hemant Lakhani next month.

Lakhani, 69, has been jailed since he allegedly arranged the delivery of a Russian-made Igla missile to the FBI operative at a hotel near Newark Liberty International Airport in August 2003. The informant claimed he represented a Somalian terror group that wanted 50 more missiles to use against U.S. jetliners; he paid Lakhani more than $80,000 for the first one and promised him $5 million for the rest.

The arrest followed a two-year FBI sting that included help from Russian agents, who posed as the missile sellers. It also drew global attention as one of the first major U.S. terrorism busts after the 9/11 attacks.

Prosecutors indicted Lakhani on charges of attempting to provide material support to terrorists, but said they had no evidence linking him to known terrorist groups. He also faces counts of money laundering, unlawful brokering of foreign defense articles and attempting to import merchandise by means of false statements.

Lakhani pleaded not guilty and insisted in jailhouse interviews that he was set up by government agents. Defense attorney Henry Klingeman said he will argue that his client was a victim of government entrapment.

Lakhani sat silently in U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden's courtroom yesterday as jury selection began. He wore glasses and a slightly oversized suit; four deputy U.S. marshals sat within a few paces of the defense table.

About 40 potential jurors were dismissed based on their replies to a questionnaire. The rest will be screened individually in coming days by Hayden, Klingeman and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stuart Rabner and Brian Howe. The trial is expected to last at least 10 weeks.

Hayden declined to release the form used to interview each juror, for fear its publication could influence the process before a panel is seated. But the responses in open court shed light on the case and the jury that attorneys hope to seat.

They asked potential jurors about their jobs, their homes, their families and friends. They asked for their views on terrorism, undercover operations and law enforcement. And they asked if they spoke Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi or Russian, languages overheard on FBI tapes that will be played during the trial.

After 50 minutes of questioning, the judge dismissed two men -- one because of a medical condition and the other because of a language barrier -- and approved a male engineer and a retired female teacher. Each will be added to a pool of about 40 panelists asked to return for the final selection on Jan. 4.

Three other men have pleaded guilty to charges related to the plot.

Manthena "Vijay" Raja, a London financier, pleaded guilty in September to laundering $86,000 for Lakhani. Raja, an Indian national, said he said he knew the money was payment for a missile.

Yehuda Abraham, a New York jeweler, and Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed, an Indian national, pleaded guilty to operating an unlicensed money transmitting service in connection with the arms plot. Both admitted they arranged to secretly transfer thousands of dollars for Lakhani, but neither said they about the missile deal.

Hameed and Raja agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and are likely to testify at Lakhani's trial.

17 posted on 01/04/2005 1:18:09 PM PST by Calpernia (
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia

Gem Dealer Is Said to Aid Scheme on Terrorist Funds


Yehuda Abraham is a slight, stooped 76-year-old gem dealer, with a house in Queens, an office in New York's diamond district and shops around the world.

One night last October, prosecutors say, a client entered Mr. Abraham's 12th-floor Midtown office and handed him $30,000 in hundred dollar bills, an odd, if believable transaction in the world of international gem dealers. Mr. Abraham, by the government's account, counted out every note, then gave the client his business card.

But this was not a jewelry sale, prosecutors allege. It was a secretive deal, with a code number and a cash commission, in which Mr. Abraham agreed to transfer the client's money to a bank account in Europe, out of the sight of federal regulators.

That transaction, if it occurred as federal prosecutors say, has landed Mr. Abraham, an immigrant who came to America nearly half a century ago, in the middle of an international dragnet that prosecutors said took into custody a dangerous arms dealer and his accomplices who were willing to bring missiles into the United States to shoot down passenger jetliners.

Prosecutors said in federal court yesterday that Mr. Abraham was the money man, a shadowy figure who facilitated the work of terrorists by giving them the means to finance their actions -- the purchase of the missiles -- through an informal money transfer system, known as hawala, which is common in the Middle East and a preferred method of finance for terrorists.

Mr. Abraham walked slowly into a federal courtroom in Manhattan yesterday, a curious figure described by some as an honest businessman and prominent member of the Jewish community in Rego Park. His rabbi showed up to offer moral support, and his brothers and sisters and children filled two aisles in the courtroom, as Mr. Abraham's lawyer, Larry Krantz, insisted this was a misunderstanding.

"I think there is a misconception to his role in this case," Mr. Krantz said.

Mr. Abraham, president of Ambuy Gem Corp., was arrested Tuesday by federal agents along with two other men -- Hemant Lakhani, a British citizen, and Moinudden Ahmed Hameed, of Malaysia.

Mr. Lakhani has been identified by prosecutors as an international arms dealer and charged with providing material support to terrorists as well as selling arms without a license. Prosecutors said he was trying to peddle shoulder-launch missiles to terrorists. Despite the prosecutors' claim that Mr. Abraham and Mr. Hameed aided Mr. Lakhani's terrorist dealings, the two have been charged only with conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, a charge that at the most could mean five years in prison.

"Yes, this elderly gentleman in poor health significantly helped broker the sale of a surface to air missile," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Purpura as he asked a judge to hold Mr. Abraham without bail.

But Federal Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck was not persuaded.

"I fail to see any allegation that could be read fairly proving or alleging that Mr. Abraham was providing money for weapons as opposed to any other black-market activity," Judge Peck said. He set bond and conditions of release pending trial, but stayed his decision until Mr. Abraham appears in court in Newark today.

Mr. Abraham has lived and worked for the last 40 years as a New York gem dealer, a career that has taken him as far away as Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia. Yesterday, men who worked with him for years on West 47th Street described him as a grandfather, an observant Jew and a well-known proprietor. Their reaction was one of disbelief.

"For a Jew to do something like that, I cannot believe it or understand it," said a 49-year-old jewelry wholesaler whose shop is on 47th Street. "He's a prominent member of our community. To do something like that is crazy."

The world of the diamond district, though, is a cash-rich one, where unset gems must often be purchased in cash, and where wealthy customers will often pay in bundles of bills. A law enforcement official said yesterday that behind the bustling facade of the diamond district is a nebulous world of murky financial transactions where federal agents have long focused on money laundering and other crimes.

Gem merchants acknowledged yesterday that large amounts of cash flow across international borders every day, but insisted that it is done in legal and documented ways.

"This business is very sensitive. People are very careful," the jewelry wholesaler said.

Mr. Abraham's relatives appeared stunned and angry as they left the court yesterday. They refused to comment, and the lawyer, Mr. Krantz, also refused to discuss Mr. Abraham's life, his work or the charges against him. In court, Mr. Krantz and the prosecutors described Mr. Abraham as a wealthy and successful man with more than $1 million equity in his home and shops in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

But in court papers, prosecutors painted a more sinister picture of Mr. Abraham. The papers suggest that he was also involved in the hawala cash transfer system for some time and that he had a good reputation among those who used it.

In 2002, the prosecutors said, Mr. Lakhani, interested in proving his good faith with missile dealers overseas, enlisted Mr. Abraham to send $30,000 to a bank in Europe. He was described, in tape-recorded conversations with other participants, as trustworthy and well known. To ensure security of the deal, there would be a code. The person posing as a buyer of missiles -- actually a government co-operator -- was given the serial number of a one dollar bill. Later, the authorities say, after Mr. Abraham counted out the $100 bills in his office, he reached into his pocket and turned over a dollar bill with the exact serial number. The deal was complete, except for Mr. Abraham's fee of $1,500, prosecutors said.

18 posted on 01/04/2005 1:21:38 PM PST by Calpernia (
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia

Role of benevolent jewel dealer puzzles neighbors in New York

In his fancy Queens neighborhood, Yehuda H. Abraham is known as a kindly benefactor of his synagogue and world-traveling gem importer. The family business he co-founded in 1955 boasts of sales to royalty, heads of state, and a "highly discerning clientele in Saudi Arabia."

Along the chic, narrow streets of Hendon, in northern London, Hemant Lakhani is recalled as the owner of an empty million-dollar house.

In his temporary cell at the Passaic County Jail, Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed remains a mystery: That he came from Malaysia three days ago is certain. Beyond that detail, nothing.

Prosecutors say they can prove that Lakhani, 68, a British citizen, was a "significant international arms dealer." They say they have evidence that Abraham, 76, and Hameed, whose age is unknown, were money launderers.

Lakhani's lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Donald J. McCauley, declined to comment about his client after an appearance in federal court in Newark on Wednesday.

Hameed's lawyer, Cathy Fleming, said her client insists he did nothing wrong. Both men were being held without bond pending a bail hearing next week.

Abraham was accompanied in federal court in New York by his four children, a rabbi, and other supporters. His lawyer, Larry Krantz, said the charge does not specify that Abraham - who was arrested with Hameed at a Fifth Avenue gem dealership - knew he was involved in a terrorist plot. Bail was set at $10 million.

In his Forest Hills, Queens, neighborhood Wednesday, those who know Abraham said the scenario seemed all wrong. Nothing about the man, they said, suggested a plot to unleash a Russian-made missile, called an SA-18 Igla, on a nation of travelers still jittery about flying well after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

No one answered the door to the grand brick two-story home at Ingram Street and 70th Avenue. The house, set on a corner property with a lush lawn and 6-foot hedges, is the finest on the block. Those who have seen the interior say it is outfitted with marble.

On the doorpost was a mezuza, a small case of parchment etched with biblical scripture that is often displayed outside Jewish homes.

Neighbor Bernie Roseman was among the half-dozen people who said Abraham was a good man, a benefactor of his synagogue who was kind enough to donate its torah.

"Unless the guy is out of his mind he couldn't have known what this [alleged plot] was all about," Roseman said. "I can't envision somebody who would donate a torah to be involved with terrorism."

Sylvia Hanna, a next-door neighbor of the Abrahams for 15 years, said she was not particularly social with the couple, nor did she see "anything to raise eyebrows."

"I didn't see them for months at a time," Hanna said. "The wife would tell me that they went to Thailand on business."

She added: "Why anyone who is Jewish would be mixed up with something like this is beyond me. But I'm an optimist. I think he'll be vindicated."

A business filing compiled by Dun & Bradstreet shows Abraham has been in the gem business since at least 1955, when he incorporated Ambuy International Corp. with an individual named Mayer Abraham.

The filing does not disclose the relationship, if any, between the Ambuy founders. A history of the company updated last month says Ambuy "wholesales jewelry or precious stones, specializing in jewelry and diamonds."

According to the filing, Ambuy employs 10 people, including Gideon Abraham - the son of Yehuda Abraham - as president. Ambuy sells to wholesalers and distributors in "local" territory, the document says, and rents 2,000 square feet of office space.

In the New York City diamond district Wednesday afternoon, many jewelers said Yehuda Abraham was a respected figure.

"As far as I know he was always full of integrity and honesty. I enjoyed dealing with him," said Steve, a 50-year-old man who declined to give his last name. On Tuesday, he said, police arrived at the Ambuy offices, 580 Fifth Ave. at 47th Street.

"I am in shock," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

No one answered the phone listed to Ambuy on Wednesday. On, a Web site riddled with spelling and punctuation errors, the company says it has jewelry designers in Europe and the United States and locations in New York, Antwerp, Milan, Bangkok, and Jiddah, which is in Saudi Arabia.

The site shows breathtaking precious stones, including a necklace set with 23.25 carats in emeralds and 61.60 carats in diamonds.

"We have sold to 7 Heads of State and Royal Families and our exquisite jewelry is much sought after by the affluent of the world," the site boasts. "Our store, New York Jewels in Jiddah located in the prestigious Sheraton Hotel has recently opened with the purpose of providing our highly discerning clientele in Saudi Arabia with the finest and most extravagant jewelry."

Gideon Abraham did not respond to an e-mail from The Record, and a phone message left at his home - a ninth-floor apartment at 257 Central Park West - was not returned.

Gideon Abraham's mother-in-law, a former Edgewater resident named Ann V. Karas, had little to say about Yehuda Abraham.

"I only know him as a nice man," Karas said from her home in East Hampton, N.Y. "We are related through marriage, distantly."

Yehuda Abraham is charged with conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business. He is believed to have handled a $30,000 payment on behalf of Lakhani, the British citizen, and have sent it to overseas accounts registered to Lakhani.

In England, police were continuing their investigation at two London locations, including Lakhani's house. He was arrested Tuesday night at a hotel near Newark Liberty International Airport and charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to terrorists and acting as an arms broker without a license.

On Wednesday a police officer stood guard at the door of Lakhani's two-story home in the exclusive north London neighborhood of Hendon, The Associated Press reported. Scratches appeared to be signs of where police had forced the lock, and the door had been secured again with two large padlocks.

A 15-year-old BMW sat in the driveway, and curtains were drawn in the windows of the duplex house. Neighbors told The Guardian newspaper that Lakhani was a textile dealer who had listed his home on the real estate market for $1.125 million.

19 posted on 01/04/2005 1:24:22 PM PST by Calpernia (
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 18 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia

One word ~ Intent.

20 posted on 01/04/2005 1:31:10 PM PST by Beckwith (John, you said I was going to be the First Lady. As of now, you're on the couch.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-36 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson