Monday, May 09, 2005

This is Freakin' priceless! Felons to arm Iraqi Army

The U.S. Army has approved the purchase of a more than $29 million worth of weapons for the new Iraqi army from a Chinese company that is under federal indictment in San Francisco in connection with the smuggling of 2,000 AK-47 automatic rifles through the Port of Oakland in 1996.

The haul remains the largest seizing of smuggled automatic weapons in U.S. history. The alleged mastermind and several defendants lived, worked and owned businesses in Silicon Valley when the investigation began in the mid-1990s.

Army Lt. Col. Joe Yoswa, a Pentagon official, said the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command approved the contract for Poly Technologies after checking the company's background. The state-owned company, based in Beijing, wasn't among those banned from doing business in the United States, he said;

Poly Technologies is to deliver 2,369 light and heavy machine guns, 14,653 AK-47 rifles and 72 million rounds of ammunition worth $29.3 million by Saturday, according to a Pentagon statement.</P> <P>It isn't clear whether the deal, which comes as the Bush administration is pressing the European Union to maintain an embargo on high-tech arms sales to China, was discussed or approved by higher-ranking officials at the State and Defense departments. Hungary, Poland and Romania, all members of the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq, could supply the same weapons. China opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Poly Technologies won the competitively bid contract in February from the International Trading Establishment, a Jordan-based consortium. The U.S. Army selected the consortium to supply Iraq's fledgling security forces with as much as $174.4 million worth of radios, night-vision equipment, weapons and ammunition. The consortium includes coalition partners of corporations from the Czech Republic, Spain and Jordan.

Dynasty Holding of Atlanta, the name under which Poly Technologies did business in the United States, was charged in the 1996 smuggling case, along with 14 co-defendants

The 30-count indictment stemmed from a sting operation mounted by undercover U.S. Treasury and U.S. Customs agents. The agents paid $700,000 for 2,000 fully automatic AK-47s that were shipped into Oakland aboard a Chinese-owned vessel from China in March 1996.

On May 22, 1996, Customs and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents arrested six Silicon Valley residents, including Hammond H. Ku of Saratoga. Arrest warrants also were issued for Bao Ping ``Robert'' Ma of Los Altos and six Chinese nationals, including several high-ranking officials of another state-run munitions firm, Norinco

Ku, a resident alien from Taiwan, and three other defendants already have pleaded guilty. Ku has been awaiting sentencing since pleading guilty in 1997 to illegal importation and money-laundering charges

During a 1996 interview with the Mercury News shortly after his arrest, Ku denied the charges and said he wanted to restart his life. He and his wife owned several restaurants and properties on the Peninsula and in San JoseI have a very deep feeling about this society,'' he said. ``I would love to stay here. . . . I wouldn't do anything to harm it.

It was in Ku's warehouse in Soquel that federal agents first found evidence of a gun ring, court papers said. An informant tipped off a Customs agent in June 1994 that several thousand firearms, imported from Chinese government-controlled companies, were stashed at the warehouse.

Ma was a former Chinese army general who was the firm's U.S. representative, according to the indictment. He is one of five Chinese nationals who are fugitivesMa and three co-defendants also were charged with smuggling 20,000 AK-47 bipods into the United States from China in December 1994.&Two other Chinese nationals who were charged, a former Poly Technologies export manager and a former export official of Norinco, have been convicted in China, said Lori Haley of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.&As long as they are fugitives, the investigation is still open,'' Haley saidMa's attorney, Joseph Russinello, said his client was innocentt

He said the Chinese government had ``basically cleared'' Ma in the investigation that led to the convictions of the former Poly Technologies and Norinco export officials

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