Gem Dealer Charged in Missile-Smuggling Plot

A New York City gem dealer has been linked to an elaborate international scheme to obtain surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down passenger jetliners, the FBI and federal prosecutors said.

Yehuda Abraham, 76, owner of Ambuy Gem Corp., 47th Street and Fifth Avenue, was charged with conspiring to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business. If convicted he could face five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. During his arraignment, bail was set at $10 million. He was later released on bail.

According to an FBI statement, Abraham—an Afghan Jew who migrated to the United States nearly 50 years ago—also operated an illegal money-remitter business from his office suite. Abraham, who lives in the Queens section of New York City, accepted an initial $30,000 down payment on behalf of Hemant Lakhani and presumably transferred it overseas to accounts controlled by Lakhani.

According to The New York Times, federal prosecutors said that in 2002 Lakhani enlisted Abraham to send $30,000 to a bank in Europe. In tape-recorded conversations with other participants, Abraham was described as trustworthy and well known by Lakhani. To ensure security of the deal, a code was created: The person posing as a buyer of missiles—actually a person described by the FBI in its statement as a “cooperating witness, who was posing as a representative of a Somali terror organization”—was given the serial number of a one-dollar bill. Later, the authorities say, after Abraham counted out the $100 bills in his office, he reached into his pocket and turned over a dollar bill with the exact serial number. The deal was complete, except for Abraham’s fee of $1,500, prosecutors said.

Lakhani, 68, is a British citizen and a native of India. He has been identified as an international arms dealer, and according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department, he tried to complete the sale of a shoulder-fired missile, with the understanding that it was going to be used to shoot down an American commercial airliner. In addition, the FBI said, he was trying to arrange for the sale of at least 50 more anti-aircraft missiles to the same FBI informant. According to the criminal complaint, contact between Lakhani and the cooperating witness began in December 2001, with most of the conversations spoken in Urdu or Hindi.

Lakhani is charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to terrorists and acting as an arms broker without a license. The first charge carries up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; the second, 10 years and $1 million in fines.

A third person, Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed, 38, a citizen of India living in Malaysia, is charged with conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business. His role was to help launder the expected $500,000 down payment for 50 missiles, authorities said.