NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Armenian and South African accused of agreeing to smuggle Russian military arms into the United States could barely produce assault rifles and were lured by an FBI informant with the promise of green cards, defense lawyers said in opening arguments on Wednesday.
Artur Solomonyan, 28, from Armenia, and Christiaan Dewet Spies, 35, from South Africa, was in Manhattan federal court accused, with four others, of agreeing to sell rocket-propelled grenade launchers, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and other weapons acquired in Armenia and Chechnya.
In opening arguments, prosecutor David Massey that said between 2003 and 2005, Solomonyan and Spies, who he said were the ringleaders, had sold one machine gun and seven assault rifles to an informant, and showed him photos of missiles and other weapons that they said were also for sale.
“All these weapons were about money, plain and simple,” said Massey, saying the defendants operated out of New York, Los Angeles and Miami. “The defendants saw these weapons as a way to make a quick buck.”
Authorities have said previously that the informant had said he had ties to al-Qaeda and would secure green cards for them to help them travel overseas for the arms deals.
But defense lawyers said the informant, Kelly Davis, 48, also a South African national, kept pushing the deal on the men, who followed along believing they would be given green cards that would allow the two illegal immigrants to work in the United States.
“If the world had more arms dealers like Artur Solomonyan, it would be a much safer place,” Solomonyan’s lawyer Seth Ginsberg told the jury. “What he really wanted was a green card.”
Spies’ lawyer John Burke said the men took almost eight months to produce guns that were readily available in the United States and accused the government of an overzealous sting operation.
“They kept pushing, they kept calling, they kept dangling that green card,” he said. “The government couldn’t admit that these guys are not international arms dealers.”