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USA arrests Peter Biar, Abraham Chol Keech over weapons

By Charles K Mark


United States of America (USA) has arrested two South Sudanese on allegation of conspiring to purchase and illegally export weapons.

The US Department of Justice, in a press release, names the suspects as Abraham Chol Keech and Peter Biar Ajak.

In a statement, a federal criminal complaint was unsealed this week in the District of Arizona charging Abraham Chol Keech, 44, of Utah, and Peter Biar Ajak, 40, of Maryland with the allegation.

The two are said to have been involved in a deal worth millions of dollars of fully automatic rifles, grenade launchers, Stinger missile systems, hand grenades, sniper rifles, and other export-controlled items from the USA to South Sudan.

The US Office of Public Affairs says the act is a violation of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and the Export Control Reform Act (ECRA).

“As alleged, the defendants sought to unlawfully smuggle heavy weapons and ammunition from the United States into South Sudan – a country that is subject to a U.N. arms embargo due to the violence between armed groups, which has killed and displaced thousands,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

He said the Department of Justice will not tolerate the illicit export of weapons overseas, adding that it will hold accountable those who would violate the stated laws.

For his part, U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino for the District of Arizona expressed that sanctions and export controls help ensure that American weapons are not used internationally to destabilize other sovereign nations.

“We thank our law enforcement partners, including Homeland Security Investigations, for continuing to use their legacy customs enforcement authority to protect the public,” Restaino praised.

According to court documents, in July 2018, in response to the conflict between South Sudan’s R-TGoNU and opposition forces, the United Nations Security Council imposed an arms embargo on the country.

The Security Council has renewed the arms embargo every year since 2018, most recently in May 2023.

Under U.S. law, specifically the AECA and ECRA, it is unlawful to export weapons and ammunition to South Sudan absent authorization in the form of a license from the U.S. Department of State or the Department of Commerce.

It is the policy of the United States to deny licenses and approvals to export to South Sudan defense articles, such as automatic rifles, grenade launchers, and missile Stinger systems.

In a press release, the US public affairs revealed that as alleged in court documents, between at least February 2023 and February 2024, Keech and Ajak sought to illegally purchase weapons and related export-controlled items from undercover law enforcement agents and smuggle those weapons and items from the United States to South Sudan through a third country.

According to the release, the defendants knew that South Sudan was subject to an arms embargo and that exporting weapons and ammunition from the United States to South Sudan without a license from the U.S. government was illegal and would violate U.S. law.

For example, the defendants openly discussed the illegality of the transaction, expressed the need to be discreet, and agreed to pay a risk fee for the weapons because of the illegal nature of the arms sale.

In addition, to facilitate the smuggling scheme, the defendants discussed disguising the weapons as humanitarian aid and paying bribes.

As part of the scheme, the defendants further sought to conceal from financial institutions and others the source and purpose of the funds used to purchase and smuggle the illicit arms.

For example, the defendants agreed to an arms contract for nearly $4 million worth of weapons and related items and requested a “fake contract” in the same amount in “consulting services” and items, such as “communications equipment,” related to “human rights, humanitarian, and civil engagement inside South Sudan refugee camps.”

The defendants then caused funds to be transferred through an intermediary company identified in the fake contract to complete the purchase.

If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in prison for conspiring to violate the AECA, up to 20 years in prison for conspiring to violate the ECRA, and up to 10 years in prison for smuggling goods from the United States.

The South Sudan government is yet to respond on the matter.

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