- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2010

Federal agents have foiled a plot to export $3.8 million worth of small arms — including thousands of handguns and tens of thousands of tear gas grenades — to the Ivory Coast in violation of a U.N. arms embargo and U.S. law.

Undercover officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested Ivorian national Nguessan Yao, 55, in New York last week on a charge of conspiracy. Mr. Yao was being transferred to Northern California to face trial, ICE said in statement Monday.

According to court documents, Mr. Yao was part of a plot that was uncovered last year to buy 4,000 Glock pistols, 200,000 rounds of 9 mm ammunition and 50,000 tear gas grenades and export them illegally to the Ivory Coast.

He was arrested after he had inspected a consignment of the merchandise at a warehouse in New Jersey last month, and after payments totaling $3.8 million had been made into a special bank account set up by undercover agents in San Jose, Calif., the court papers say.

During the inspection of the guns, prosecutors say, Mr. Yao discussed the need for fake invoices to conceal the true nature of the consignment, saying they should list its contents as solar panels or water pumps or other development equipment.

If convicted, Mr. Yao faces up to 10 years in prison.

A Virginia man, Michael B. Shor, was charged in relation to the plot earlier this year. He was released on bail and is cooperating with federal authorities, according to court documents, but that case remains under seal.

Mr. Shor’s attorney did not return a phone call requesting comment.

According to the charges against Mr. Yao, federal agents learned in July 2009 from a cooperating defendant in another case that Mr. Shor was trying to buy handguns for export to the Ivory Coast.

The strife-racked West African nation has been under a U.N. arms embargo since 2004 amid a bloody civil war, and any exports of military hardware or training require a special license from the U.S. State Department.

In September 2009, undercover agents met in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with Mr. Shor and with a co-conspirator from the Ivory Coast to discuss the proposed deal.

In April, prosecutors say, about $1.9 million was deposited by wire transfer into the undercover bank account as a 50 percent down payment for the arms shipment. Mr. Shor was arrested a few days later.

Much about the case remains unclear, and the identities of several Ivorian co-conspirators — including the person for whom the arms were intended — are masked in the charging documents, which say they will not be indicted.

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice declined to comment on the specifics of the case, which she said was still ongoing.

But she told The Washington Times: “In general, our goal is always to ensure that we are able to prosecute the person or persons primarily responsible” for the crime. She added that concealing the identities of unindicted co-conspirators is “a prosecutorial strategy we sometimes use towards that end.”

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