WASHINGTON -- Six former high-ranking officials in the Polish government and two Southern California men have been arrested in a U.S. Customs Service sting operation for allegedly trying to sell $96 million worth of arms to Iraq, according to federal officials.
The alleged international arms ring was uncovered by Customs agents posing as front men for the Iraqi government, authorities said.
The Poles, who included a former third-ranked general in the Polish army and two former deputy Cabinet ministers, were arrested at a hotel in Frankfurt, Germany, March 10 as they allegedly signed the $96 million deal to ship the agents 4,000 grenade launchers, 1,000 portable anti-aircraft missiles and 73,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, authorities said.
The plot's reputed mastermind, Ronald James Hendron, 51, of El Toro, Calif., and its alleged financier, Jehmin Lah, 44, of Newport Beach, Calif., were apprehended in New York City a day later as they flew in from Europe, officials said Friday.
Such weapon sales are illegal under U.S. and German laws, and the arrests dramatize Western concerns that the financially strapped former Soviet bloc nations have been stepping up sales of arms to developing countries.
Mr. Hendron, who describes himself as a licensed international arms dealer, denied any wrongdoing in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. He said the deal, as planned, was to send arms legally to the Philippines, not to Iraq.
He said that once meetings began between the undercover agents and his group, the agents changed their story, and said the arms would be going to Iraq.
Mr. Hendron said it was the undercover agents who demanded that the former East bloc officials supply nuclear weapons, including a nuclear bomb, but they had never intended to do so.
Arrested in Germany were:
* Jerzy Brzostek, former deputy minister of the Polish Housing Ministry.
* Jerzy Napiorkowski, former deputy finance minister.
* Retired Gen. Wojciech Baranski, former deputy chief of staff in the Polish army.
* Jan Gorecki, former Polish consul in Washington.
* Zbigniew Grabowski, former director of the Polish technology office.
* Rajmund Szwonder, general manager of the Lucznik armament factory, the largest manufacturer of Kalashnikov assault rifles in Eastern Europe.