NEW YORK (Reuters) - The trial of a Lebanese man arrested in Romania and accused of agreeing to sell millions of dollars of weapons to Colombian rebels began on Wednesday.
Tareq Mousa al Ghazi, 62, is accused of taking part in the weapons deal with Monzer al-Kassar, a Syrian who was convicted of terrorism charges and sentenced last week. It turned out to be a U.S.-backed sting operation that stretched from Lebanon to Spain and Romania.
Prosecutors say Ghazi took part in the deal thinking the weapons would go to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and believed they would be used to kill Americans seeking to disrupt the cocaine trade.
“Tareq al-Ghazi was given the opportunity to put millions of dollars of weapons in the hands of what he believed were terrorists,” said prosecutor Brendan McGuire, who added Ghazi stood to make up to $500,000 for setting up the deal.
The prosecution’s case is largely based on three undercover operatives, two of whom posed as FARC arms buyers, and videotaped negotiations of the deal in Spain.
But Ghazi’s attorney, Marc Agnifolo, said his client was coerced into the deal by one of the informants and in addition believed it was a legal arms deal.
“The evidence is not going to convince you that Tareq al Ghazi knew Americans were going to be killed,” he told the jury in Manhattan federal court.
Ghazi faces four conspiracy charges including agreeing to sell weapons to FARC, which is designated a terrorist organization by the United States.
He was arrested in mid-2007 in Romania with a third man, Felipe Moreno Godoy. Last week Kassar, who prosecutors called one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers, was sentenced to 30 years in prison while Moreno Godoy was sentenced to 25 years.
Reporting by Christine Kearney; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Beech