Streams

Jury Convicts Man in Shoulder-fired Missile Case

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A federal jury on Wednesday convicted a former British clothing merchant of attempting to sell shoulder-launched missiles to what he believed was a terrorist group planning to shoot down airliners.

The sting operation involving undercover agents from several nations became the first terrorism prosecution in New Jersey after the 2001 attacks. Hemant Lakhani was found guilty on all five counts he faced. The verdict came just hours after the jury began its second day of deliberations.

The trial began in January, but had several breaks while the 69-year-old London resident had an angioplasty for a heart condition and later had an emergency double hernia operation.

Lakhani was convicted of one count of attempting to provide material support to terrorists, one count of unlawful brokering of foreign defense articles, two counts of money laundering and one count of attempting to import merchandise into the U.S. by means of false statements.

He faces up to 67 years in prison and $2.5 million in fines. The government will now want him to forfeit two payments totaling less than $100,000 made through an informant to foreign bank accounts for Lakhani's benefit.

Lakhani has been held without bail since his arrest in a hotel room near Newark Liberty International Airport on Aug. 12, 2003.

At the hotel he met a man he knew as "Haji" but who was actually a government informant named Mohammad Habib Rehman, a Pakistani who had also been involved in the drug trade. Lakhani's defense devoted much of its efforts toward discrediting Rehman.

The jury saw a covertly made video of that meeting. The recording showed a disabled Russian-made Igla shoulder-fired missile in a box, and Lakhani laughing and joking with Rehman about using missiles against commercial planes as the two men looked out a window overlooking the airport.

Rehman, who posed as a representative of the Somali-based Ogaden National Liberation Front, testified he began speaking to Lakhani in October 2001. He first met with Lakhani in New Jersey in January 2002 to discuss procuring arms for the group. Lakhani subsequently made several trips to Ukraine to contact arms suppliers, Howe said, proving that he was ready from the outset to break the law and provide missiles to terrorists.

The government claims Lakhani agreed to arrange the sale of 50 more missiles after the original sale.

"He made trip after trip after trip," Howe told the jury last week. "This guy was the Energizer Bunny of arms traffickers. He just kept going and going."

Three others connected to the case have already pleaded guilty to money laundering or related charges. All three have denied any connections to terrorist organizations and await sentencing.

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