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U.S. charges Syrian, Briton, American in illicitly exporting chemical-arms gear to Syria

AP

U.S. prosecutors have charged a Pennsylvania man and two foreign citizens with conspiring to illegally export devices for chemical warfare detection and lab equipment to Syria, authorities said in a case that was under seal for 17 months.

A federal judge unsealed the case Wednesday after Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Hinkley signed a plea agreement for one of three men charged in 2012. The three are accused of illegally shipping goods to Syria through other countries for nine years by creating false invoices that mislabeled the items, undervalued them and listed false purchasers and end users.

A 2003 federal law paved the way to broad new economic and trade sanctions against Syria, amid accusations by lawmakers in Congress that Damascus had been a detriment to the fight against terrorism in the Middle East and Iraq. The sanctions, imposed in 2004, banned all U.S. exports to Syria except food and medicine.

A 31-page indictment did not say how authorities discovered the alleged scheme, and Hinkley said he could not comment on it. Investigators also do not know who in Syria ultimately used the items. “We know they were exported to Syria,” Hinkley said. “The end-user information we weren’t able, at least to this point, to develop in the investigation.”

The items included portable instruments to detect, measure and classify chemical agents; masks used to defend against them; lab equipment; industrial engines used in oil and gas fields; and a device used to locate buried pipelines. Countries allegedly used as way stations to transship the items included the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and the U.K.

Charged are Harold Rinko, of Pennsylvania.; Ahmad Feras Diri, of London; and Moawea Deri, a Syrian citizen who is reportedly at large. Diri and Deri refer to themselves as brothers in communication cited in the indictment.

Diri and Deri allegedly used Rinko as a front man to buy the items and ship them to a country that did not have an export ban. An agreement signed by Rinko to plead guilty to a conspiracy count also was unsealed Wednesday. In a brief telephone interview, Rinko confirmed to The Associated Press that he has agreed to plead guilty.

Prosecutors say Diri is awaiting extradition in London, where he was arrested last year, and that they have not been able to interview him. Deri is believed to be in Syria, which has no extradition treaty with the United States.