Jordanian-born man sentenced to 30 years in arms-smuggling scheme

Rami Najm Asad-Ghanem, 53, was convicted in what prosecutors said was a scheme to sell surface-to-air missiles.

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By Andrew Blankstein and Phil Helsel

LOS ANGELES — A Jordanian-born man who was convicted last year in an arms-smuggling scheme has been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

Rami Najm Asad-Ghanem, 53, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was sentenced Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California in Los Angeles said in a statement.

Asad-Ghanem was convicted in November of conspiracy to use and transfer missile systems designed to destroy aircraft. Before his trial, he also pleaded guilty to six other counts, including violating the Federal Arms Export Control Act, conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering, prosecutors have said.

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The government argued that Asad-Ghanem sought to broker and transfer to clients around the world anti-aircraft missiles between 2013 and 2015, as well as procured the services of mercenary missile operators to a Libyan militant faction.

No direct evidence was presented at trial that any of the missiles made it to any of the countries, law enforcement sources familiar with the case have said.

Asad-Ghanem, commonly known as Rami Ghanem, was living in Egypt at the time of the offenses, the U.S. attorney’s office said. He was arrested Dec. 8, 2015, in Athens, Greece, extradited to the U.S. and has been held without bail since then.

Asad-Ghanem "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," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in Tuesday’s statement.

One of Asad-Ghanem's attorneys, H. Dean Steward, said in an email Tuesday night that they plan to appeal.

"The government's presentation to both the jury and the court at sentencing was dramatically overblown. Mr. Ghanem was [a] logistics specialist, no more," Steward said.

In a sentencing memorandum filed with the court, Asad-Ghanem's attorneys argued that there is no evidence that he or any of his alleged co-conspirators actually possessed or distributed any missiles and that they did not take any substantive steps that could be seen as an attempt to do so.