An international arms trafficker who conspired to transfer surface-to-air missile systems designed to shoot down aircraft to customers in Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and elsewhere faces at least 25 years behind bars when sentenced in Los Angeles in March.
Rami Najm Asad-Ghanem, 52, who was commonly known as Rami Ghanem -- a naturalized United States citizen who was living in Egypt at the time of the offenses -- was found guilty of the missile conspiracy charge Thursday in Los Angeles federal court following a nine-day trial, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that demonstrated he conspired to use Russian-made Igla and Strela surface-to-air missile systems by brokering the services of mercenary missile operators to a militant faction in Libya in 2015.
Among other actions, Ghanem negotiated the salaries and terms of service of the mercenary missile operators, coordinated their payment, facilitated their travel to Libya, and offered them a $50,000 bonus if they were successful in their mission of shooting down airplanes flown by the internationally recognized government of Libya.
"With the wide range of weapons being offered for sale, this case demonstrates the dangers of underground arms trafficking to the international community and to the security of U.S. forces operating abroad," said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna.
On Oct. 29, Ghanem pleaded guilty to six other federal crimes arising from a variety of arms-trafficking activities, including the unlicensed export of weapons and ammunition, smuggling, money laundering and unlicensed arms brokering.
The investigation into Ghanem started in mid-2014, when a Los Angeles-based supplier of military supplies alerted the U.S. government that it had been solicited to provide equipment to the arms dealer, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Homeland Security Investigations then launched an undercover operation in which Ghanem expressed an interest in purchasing helicopters and fighter jets on behalf of Iranian clients, and Ghanem said he had relationships with Hezbollah in Iraq, prosecutors said.
Over the course of several months in 2015, Ghanem discussed his interest in purchasing numerous weapons, and in August 2015 placed an order for $220,000 worth of sniper rifles, pistols, silencers, laser sights, ammunition, night-vision goggles and other items that were to be shipped to Libya. After making two down payments, Ghanem was arrested on Dec. 8, 2015, in Athens. He was extradited to the United States in April 2016 to face prosecution in the case and has remained in custody without bond since his arrest.
As a result of the guilty verdict on the missile-trafficking charge, Ghanem will face between 25 years and life in federal prison at sentencing March 4.
In October, Ghanem pleaded guilty to attempted exportation of defense articles without a license, smuggling, two counts of money laundering, conspiracy to illegally broker a wide range of weapons and illegal arms brokering.
In relation to those charges, he faces up to 20 years for each of the weapons exportation, arms brokering and money laundering counts. On the smuggling count, Ghanem faces up to 10 years in prison, and on the conspiracy count, he faces a maximum of five years behind bars, prosecutors said.