July 1, 1997 in Nation/World

Customs Agents Thwart $1.3 Million Missile Deal Two Lithuanian Nationals Hawked Sams, Nuclear Arms

Sun-Sentinel
 

Two Lithuanian nationals were in jail without bond Monday after trying to sell nuclear weapons and surface-to-air missiles to undercover agents posing as arms brokers for Colombian drug lords, U.S. customs officials said.

The weapons were never delivered, but a Customs Service spokesman said federal investigators think the men had access to the arms. The investigation continues.

“Yes, these guys were the real deal,” said spokesman Mike Sheehan. “The impression was that everything was legit.”

Alexander Porgrebeshki, 28, and Alexander Darichev, 36, were arrested Friday in a Hampton Inn hotel room in Miami after completing a $1.3 million deal in which 40 surface-to-air missiles, or SAMs, were to be shipped from Bulgaria to Puerto Rico, according to an arrest affidavit filed in U.S. District Court.

During the negotiations, the undercover customs agents asked the Lithuanians whether the missiles could be traced if they were used to shoot down a passenger plane.

“No,” the Lithuanians allegedly replied, they could not.

Dennis Fagan, acting special agent in charge of customs’ Miami field office, said agents did not allow the deal to go through because they did not want the Lithuanians to leave the United States, and because “we could not guarantee the safety or integrity of the weapons.”

Although describing the case as “a rarity,” Fagan said: “This can happen, and it probably will happen again. In this case, we were lucky enough to be able to intervene.”

In a taped meeting in Room 108 of the Hampton Inn on Northwest 79 Avenue on Thursday, the two Lithuanians provided undercover agents with documentation showing that the owner of a vessel, Al Fares, registered in the west African country of Equitorial Guinea, was prepared to receive the surface-to-air missiles in Bulgaria and ship them to Puerto Rico.

The agents then had several tape recorded conversations with the ship’s owner, Angelo Zeini, in Cyprus. Zeini confirmed that his ship was standing by in Alexandria, Egypt, and was ready to pick up the missiles. The nuclear transaction was to take place after the SAMs deal was complete, the affidavit says. No details about the nuclear weapons were available.


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