Ara Dolarian, a 58-year-old American, has been arrested by the United States government and charged with illegally brokering the sale of military-grade arms and munitions to the Nigerian government.
According to a statement by the U.S. attorney's office on Monday, May 20, 2019, Dolarian was arrested on May 15 and also stands accused of money laundering, and conspiracy.
His Fresno-based arms brokering company, Dolarian Capital Inc. (DCI), had been denied licenses to broker international arms deals by the U.S. Department of State beginning in 2013 and continuing through 2014.
Despite this, the suspect executed sales contracts with Societe D'Equipments Internationaux (SEI), a French arms brokering company acting on behalf of Nigeria, for the purchase and transfer of high‑explosive bombs, rockets, military-grade firearms, and aircraft-mounted cannons worth more than $8.5 million.
"Dolarian submitted a brokering application with the U.S. State Department in June 2014 for the proposed deal with Nigeria. This brokering application, along with a later one, was never approved by the State Department," the U.S. attorney's office said.
Despite not having the approval of the State Department, Dolarian allegedly accepted approximately $8.3 million from Nigeria and SEI.
The Nigerian government funneled the funds, in part, through a purported furniture company in Hong Kong and then routed them through numerous shell accounts held by Dolarian and others.
Dolarian is reported to have used the funds to pay off personal expenses such as federal and state tax debts, and the purchase of a BMW SUV.
The U.S. government seized over $6 million that remained in Dolarian's account with civil forfeiture proceedings related to that seizure currently pending.
During a detention hearing on Monday, prosecutors presented court records to show that Dolarian also tried to broker illegal arms deals with the Cameroonian government as well as Paul Malong, a South Sudanese warlord in Kenya.
The defendant's attorney, George Newhouse, denied that he's a licensed arms dealer and that he's committed to fighting the charges.
U.S. Magistrate, Judge Sheila K. Oberto, remanded the accused in custody and set preliminary hearing for May 30.
If convicted for unlicensed arms brokering, Dolarian faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
If convicted for conspiracy, he faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while there's a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000 for money laundering.
Nigerian government and questionable arms deals
The funds paid to Dolarian were established to have originated from the Office of the National Security Adviser, then Sambo Dasuki, with a notation indicating it as "Payment for Supply of Technical Equipment".
Dolarian allegedly attempted to deliver the weapons to the Nigerian government from Eastern Europe through South Africa.
The South African government seized a total of $15 million in two separate foiled arms deal involving Nigeria in 2014. South Africa's Asset Forfeiture Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority seized the funds for allegedly being the proceeds of illegal transactions.
The second deal, involving US$5.7 million, was between Cerberus Risk Solutions, an arms broker in Cape Town, and SEI which was also involved in the deal with Dolarian.
The Nigerian government, then headed by former President Goodluck Jonathan, claimed that it was forced to turn to under-the-table arms deals because the U.S. government blocked its access to the formal arms market due to accusations of human rights abuses by human rights group.
The government said the military equipment was to prosecute the fight against terrorist group, Boko Haram, which has run rampant in the northeast since 2009, killing around 30,000 and displacing millions.