Man charged with plot to smuggle munitions He is accused of trying to ship engines to Vietnam

December 01, 1998|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

A California man is accused of trying to ship military equipment to Vietnam by way of the port of Baltimore, where shipping documents were falsified as part of a munitions smuggling scheme, federal prosecutors said.

Gia An Du, 36, intended to send 137 military diesel engines designed for the U.S. Army to an unspecified port in Vietnam, according to an indictment filed last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The engines are prohibited from export under the federal Arms Export Control Act because they are designed for military vehicles. The act makes it illegal to ship any engine designed for "armored vehicles, and vehicles designed or modified to accommodate mountings for arms," according to the indictment.

Prosecutors and U.S. Customs Service agents released few details about the case yesterday. Du, who ran an exporting business in Lake Forest, Calif., called Seven Seas Trading Co., hasn't been arrested, according to court papers. Efforts to reach him last night were unsuccessful.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning said Du is not a newcomer to the export business and knew that he was dealing in military equipment.

"These things had military uses, and that's something we feel he was aware of," Schenning said.

The U.S. armed forces left tons of military equipment in Vietnam in 1975 after pulling out of the conflict in that country. Military diesel engines could be used for some of the Army equipment that was left behind, or it could be installed in new equipment, according to a federal source.

Du's company is listed in California state corporate records as an "export business." Details are sketchy as to what types of materials the company has exported or where it acquired the diesel engines, described in court papers as having been designed by Detroit Diesel Corp.

Each year, the U.S. government sells surplus equipment and parts that the downsizing military no longer needs. The sales of such items -- which are supposed to be "demilitarized," or fully disabled from military use -- have brought the government $300 million or more in a single year.

Many of the demilitarized items bought at the government auctions have restrictions from export. People looking to send the items overseas must be registered with the Department of State's Office of Defense Trade Control and must get approval before shipping any "munitions list articles," court papers said.

Du had no such approval. In April 1997, the indictment alleges he submitted false shipping instructions to U.S. Customs Service officials. The paperwork described the items he was exporting as "marine engines" rather than military diesel engines, according to the indictment.

Court papers say that Du tried to ship at least some of the cargo through two companies with Baltimore offices, Penn-Maryland Steamship Corp. and Zim Container Lines. Du claimed on a shipping document that the cargo he gave to the companies "required no export license" -- a statement he knew to be false, court papers said.

Customs agents seized the engines before they were shipped. Also seized from Du's cargo were other items prohibited from export, such as ignition manifolds, fuel pumps, wiring harnesses and adapters, the indictment said.

The indictment alleges that the scheme took place in Maryland, California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Du is charged with unlawfully attempting to export munitions items and making false statements on shipping documents.

Pub Date: 12/01/98

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