Guilty In Arms Smuggling

Posted: February 28, 1997

Six years ago, federal authorities contended that three South African arms merchants had managed to smuggle U.S. artillery shell-powder supplies that were used by Iraq against U.S. troops in the Gulf War.

But time and money and a beneficial change of government in South Africa has apparently healed all wounds, or at least tempered the feelings of U.S. diplomats and politicians who want to resume trade with South Africa.

Back in Philadelphia yesterday, where the smuggling case originated in 1991, federal prosecutors obtained court approval of an unusual plea bargain under which the South African arms merchants consented to pay $12.5 million in fines.

Fuchs Electronics, a private South African firm, pleaded guilty to unlawfully exporting U.S. defense items and paid the bulk of the fines, $11 million, believed to be the largest criminal fine ever recovered in this area from one defendant, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Goldman, one of the prosecutors.

Armscor and Kentron, two South African government-owned munitions dealers, pleaded ``no contest'' - a plea the Justice Department rarely accepts - to the arms smuggling charges, and paid fines of $1 million and $500,000, respectively.

In accepting the deal, U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois observed that it was ``best for'' the United States and the new government of South Africa ``to bring some finality to this longstanding case.''

The judge also said he ``agreed completely'' with the stated goal of the two nations - to resume trading in ``defense'' material and technology ``on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit.''

The smuggling crimes took place during an 11-year period when the Republic of South Africa was under minority white rule and blacks were thought of as second-class citizens.

South Africa's current black leaders, who won control of the country in 1994, had opposed apartheid and had been calling since the 1950's for the United States to stop trading munitions with the white minority regime.

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