Alleged traffickers extradited to US on suspicion arming Colombia rebels

Three alleged arms traffickers accused of conspiring to provide weapons to Colombian leftist rebels for the purpose of killing Americans have been extradited to the United States, the Justice Department said Thursday.

AFP| Last Updated: Feb 27, 2015, 14:19 PM IST

Washington: Three alleged arms traffickers accused of conspiring to provide weapons to Colombian leftist rebels for the purpose of killing Americans have been extradited to the United States, the Justice Department said Thursday.

The three were extradited on Wednesday from Montenegro in the Balkans and were arraigned on Thursday before a court in Washington.

A statement from the Justice Department said the three had plotted to sell large quantities of military-grade weaponry to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, that country`s main rebel group.

The group has been holding peace talks with the Colombian government since late 2012.

The United States considers the FARC a terrorist organisation, and has personnel stationed in Colombia as part of its war on drug trafficking.

The suspects were identified as Cristian Vintila, 44, Massimo Romagnoli, 43, and Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, 42. They were arrested in December of last year.

US Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York said "these three men were ready and willing merchants of death, poised to sell sophisticated weapons to a terrorist organisation."

"It is further alleged that they conspired to sell the weaponry with the understanding that it would be used to shoot down American aircraft and kill American officers.

"We once again laud the efforts of the DEA to stem the flow of lethal weapons that could be aimed at US officers and to deter weapons traffickers who mean harm to the United States," Bharara added, referring to the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Vintila and Georgescu were Romania-based weapons traffickers, while Romagnoli was a Europe-based weapons trafficker, the statement said without saying where exactly the latter was based. 

Between May and October 2014 Vintila, Romagnoli and Georgescu conspired to sell an arsenal of weapons, including machine guns and anti-aircraft cannons, with the understanding that the weapons would go to the FARC to be used by FARC against the United States, the statement said.

The men agreed to sell the weapons to three confidential sources working with the DEA. The sources said they were acquiring these weapons for the FARC.

The suspects agreed to provide the weapons to the sources with the specific understanding that they would be used to kill officers and employees of the United States and, in particular, to shoot down American helicopters and airplanes, the statement said.

If convicted of one of several counts they face -- conspiring to kill US officers or employees -- the defendants face a maximum sentence of life in prison.