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Only American of trio arrested in missile plot eligible for bai

Saturday, August 16, 2003

NEWARK, N.J. -- The only U.S. citizen arrested in a suspected arms smuggling plot is eligible for release on $10 million bail, a judge ruled Friday.

Yehuda Abraham, 76, a Manhattan diamond dealer, will remain in federal custody until court officials interview at least 10 friends and relatives willing to post his bond.

Federal prosecutors wanted Abraham held without bail on a charge of conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business.

He was among three men arrested Tuesday after an international sting. The accusations center on Hemant Lakhani, a 68-year-old Briton charged with trying to sell shoulder-fired missiles to an undercover agent posing as a Muslim terrorist bent on shooting down an airliner.

Like Abraham, the third suspect was charged with conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business. Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed, 38, is an Indian citizen who prosecutors say had been living in Malaysia.

Prosecutors charge that Abraham accepted a $30,000 down payment to be transmitted overseas in exchange for a commission.

If released on bail, Abraham must remain under house arrest, according to conditions imposed by U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano.

None of the defendants has entered a plea. Hameed's lawyer, Cathy Fleming, has said her client maintained his innocence. Lakhani's lawyer, Donald J. McCauley, has declined to comment. Abraham's lawyer, Larry Krantz, said his client hopes to be vindicated.

Krantz contended Abraham posed no threat of flight or harm to the community. The lawyer asserted his client has operated a business and lived in New York for 50 years, and he suffers from high blood pressure and had part of his stomach removed due to stomach cancer.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Clark argued that secret recordings show Abraham was aware he was involved in wrongdoing, both by taking the $30,000 and in preparing to take an additional $500,000 down payment to send overseas.

Clark added that Abraham was a wealthy man with family and friends around the world. He conceded, though, that the government cannot say Abraham knew missiles or terrorism were involved with the down payments.

The arrests resulted from an investigation that began in December 2001, when the first of what eventually amounted to 150 conversations occurred between Lakhani and an FBI informant, in which Lakhani expressed an interest in brokering an arms sale, according to complaints and affidavits in the case.

During the same time period, Lakhani developed what he thought were contacts with Russian suppliers of shoulder-launched missiles, who were actually Russian agents working in cooperation with the FBI. Last month the Russians gave Lakhani a fake missile that he thought was the real thing, and he soon asked them for 50 more of the weapons, according to court documents.

Prosecutors allege Hameed had been summoned by Lakhani from Malaysia to launder a $500,000 down payment on the additional missiles, after the first was shipped at a cost of $86,000.


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