Diamond dealer pleads guilty to handling money for missiles

Yehuda Abraham, a 76-year-old New York City diamond dealer, pleaded guilty to operating an illegal money-transferring business in what prosecutors said was a scheme to provide terrorists with shoulder-fired missiles that could bring down commercial aircraft. Prosecutors conceded that he did not know what the transaction involved, The New York Times reports.

Abraham admitted in Federal District Court on March 25 that his business handled a $30,000 down payment in the sale of the 40-pound, Russian-made Igla-S portable missile, the Times reports. He entered the plea without any agreement to cooperate with the United States attorney and testify in what has become an important anti-terrorism case.

That case, which government officials have highlighted as one of the most serious post-9/11 prosecutions, involves a sting operation last August that led to the arrest of a British citizen, Hemant Lakhani, 69.

Lakhani, who has pleaded not guilty and whose lawyer said was entrapped, is charged with arranging for the sale of Russian-made missiles and the makings for a “dirty bomb” to an undercover operative who posed as a representative of a Somali terrorist cell. He was arrested in a hotel near Newark Liberty International Airport as the deal was being closed.

The United States attorney, Christopher J. Christie, reportedly said the government had not sought a cooperation agreement with Abraham because he had little to offer in the way of testimony against Lakhani. But Christie reportedly said he was seeking a three-year prison sentence for Abraham, who has admitted to facilitating many business deals through such transfers, which are illegal in the United States but are traditionally accepted in other parts of the world.

Abraham reportedly acknowledged receiving a $600 fee to transfer the $30,000 down payment for the transaction, but denied knowing what it was for. He described a prearranged code in which the courier gave him the serial number of a dollar bill to make himself known.

Judge Hayden scheduled sentencing for July 19 and continued Abraham’s release on $10 million bond.