Man admits arms trafficking

Former Indonesian general caught in Baltimore sting operation against weapons dealers

February 24, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

A former Indonesian general pleaded guilty in federal court in Baltimore yesterday after he was ensnared in an undercover operation targeting illegal arms dealers.

In September, federal customs agents arrested six South Asian arms dealers who were accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to ship restricted, high-tech weapons to rebels in Sri Lanka and the Indonesian Army.

The elaborate sting was centered in Baltimore last year, where federal agents put up a Singapore arms broker at an Inner Harbor hotel and took him to a shooting range in Harford County so he could test-fire machine guns.

Erick Wotulo, 59, who is a retired Indonesian Marine Corps general, pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and money laundering. He is the third person to plead guilty in the case.

"This case demonstrates the real threat posed by international arms trafficking and money laundering. Criminals or terrorists can wire funds anywhere in the world in an effort to further their illegal activity, often with no questions asked," said James Dinkins, acting special agent in charge of the Baltimore office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

According to the plea agreement, Wotulo conspired with others -- beginning in April -- to export state-of-the-art firearms and ammunition, surface-to-air missiles, night-vision goggles and other military weapons and gear to the Tamil Tigers -- a group seeking a homeland for ethnic Tamils within the island nation of Sri Lanka -- to be used to fight government forces there.

Wotulo helped his associates try to acquire military technology for the Tamil Tigers, requesting prices, negotiating the purchases, and providing details of ocean routes for the transfer of the arms to the Tamil group, prosecutors said.

Wotulo also contacted the undercover business in Maryland on June 5 and said that he and his associates wanted to buy weapons. According to court papers, Wotulo said that the chief of the Tamil Tigers requested that he and another co-defendant travel to Baltimore to arrange weapons purchases.

On Sept. 29, Wotulo arrived in Guam to meet with his associates and undercover agents to discuss the shipboard loading of the arms and munitions destined for the Tamil Tigers. It was in Guam where he and the five others were arrested by U.S. agents.

Wotulo faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist group and a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for money laundering. U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake scheduled sentencing for May 25.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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