Thu, Feb 26, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Syrian arms dealer gets 30 years in US prison

AGENCIES , NEW YORK

A Syrian native whom US prosecutors called one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers for decades was sentenced to 30 years in prison yesterday 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 (FARC).

Calling Kassar a “sophisticated person” whose main motivation was to make money, US 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 US-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 60-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 US$1 million.

Prosecutors said he made the deal knowing FARC would use the weapons against US helicopters and citizens to dissuade US 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.

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