LOS ANGELES (CN) – A black-market arms dealer who sold guns, anti-tank rockets, anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons to governments and militant groups around the world was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.
While living in Egypt as a naturalized United States citizen, Rami Najm Asad Ghanem, 53, orchestrated a complex operation selling surface-to-air missiles and other weapons to clients in Libya, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.
Ghanem also sold missiles to the leadership of Hezbollah, a group designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
In 2015, Ghanem facilitated a $250 million contract for a militant group in Libya who used mercenaries to fire Russian-made missiles at Libyan government aircraft.
Following a nine-day trial last November, a federal jury found Ghanem guilty of conspiring to use and transfer anti-aircraft missiles.
During the trial, the jury viewed videos of sworn testimony of two missile operators and Ghanem’s fellow arms broker who assisted in the 2015 operations in Libya.
Ghanem had pleaded guilty a day before the trial to six federal crimes, including smuggling, money laundering, and unlicensed arms brokering.
Ghanem was sentenced Monday to 30 years in federal prison by U.S. District Judge S. James Otero who, according to a statement by Thom Mrozek, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, remarked at the hearing on Ghanem’s long list of offenses.
“The breadth, scope and gravity [of Ghanem’s offenses] is really breathtaking and, in many ways, frightening,” Otero said.
Nick Hanna, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement Tuesday that Ghanem was a “merchant of death” who deserved a lengthy sentence.
“This defendant brokered a wide array of military-grade weapons, which endangered civilians around the world and put at risk America’s national security interests, including members of our armed services,” said Hanna. “Mr. Ghanem was literally a merchant of death who was ready, willing and able to sell weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, to any paying customer, with zero concern for the death and destruction these weapons might cause.”
Law enforcement began investigating Ghanem in 2014 when a Los Angeles-based company alerted authorities that it had been solicited to provide military equipment to Ghanem.
During an undercover operation, an agent with Homeland Security Investigations developed a relationship with Ghanem and learned what weapons he was seeking, including sniper rifles and night-vision optics.
At a meeting in Greece, Ghanem told the agent he had relationships with Hezbollah in Iraq and that he wanted to purchase helicopters and fighter jets for his Iranian clients but that transactions had to be “under the table.”
In 2015, Ghanem was arrested in Athens after making payments on a $220,000 order for sniper rifles, ammunition, night-vision goggles and other items for his clients in Libya.
After his arrest, authorities searched Ghanem’s digital devices and found documents linking him to a contract with the Egyptian Ministry of Defense to supply grenade launchers.
Authorities also linked Ghanem to the trafficking of counterfeit currency and black-market diamonds.
Ghanem was extradited to the U.S. in 2016 where he remained in custody without bond pending trial.