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Arms Dealer Returned to U.S. Custody

Mexico deports a former Westlake Village man who is accused of exporting jet engine parts to be used by the Iranian air force.

June 17, 2005|David Rosenzweig and Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writers

An international arms dealer convicted of selling missile guidance systems to Iran during the 1980s was back in U.S. custody Thursday, this time on charges of illegally exporting jet engine parts that investigators said were destined for the Iranian air force.

Arif Durrani, 55, a Pakistani national, was deported by Mexican authorities for an immigration violation there and placed aboard a flight that landed at Los Angeles International Airport, where he was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

A U.S. magistrate judge ordered Durrani held without bail pending arraignment next week on a 1999 indictment accusing him of violating the Arms Export Control Act.

The indictment, which remained sealed until Thursday, charged that Durrani's now defunct company, Lonestar Aerospace in Ventura, sold 151 compressor blades for the General Electric J-85 military jet engine to unnamed foreign customers in 1994.

Federal investigators said the parts were headed for Iran. It was not clear whether they arrived there. The U.S. has had a strict arms embargo against Iran since the Islamic regime came to power in 1979.

Durrani was convicted in Connecticut in 1987 of selling Iran guidance systems for use in the Hawk antiaircraft missile. At his trial, he contended that the sale was connected to Iran-Contra, the covert U.S. government operation headed by Lt. Col. Oliver North to trade arms for American hostages.

But prosecutors argued there was no evidence to support his claim of an Iran-Contra link. Two federal appeals courts agreed.

Durrani, the son of a Pakistani army general, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and ordered to pay a $2-million fine.

Released after five years, he relocated to Ventura County, where he purchased a five-acre hilltop home in Westlake Village and started an arms export business in Ventura. Within three years, however, he was again the subject of a federal probe looking into illegal weapons sales.

Durrani left the U.S. in 1998 and moved to Paris, according to federal authorities. He surfaced a few years later in Rosarito Beach, a popular tourist destination in Baja California.

He was well-known in business circles there, said former Mayor Hugo Torres Chabert, owner of the landmark Rosarito Beach Hotel. Chabert said Durrani acquired property there and expressed an interest in buying a vineyard.

"It looked like he had a lot of money," the former mayor said.

Durrani was arrested Sunday on Mexican immigration charges outside a restaurant on Rosarito Beach's main avenue. The arrest was the culmination of extensive negotiations between U.S. and Mexican authorities.

Because Durrani is not a U.S. citizen, Mexican federal agents could not hand him over to U.S. authorities at the border, which is the customary practice, said Abraham Sarabia, a spokesman for the Mexican attorney general's office in Tijuana.

Instead, Durrani was flown to Mexico City for deportation proceedings. On Wednesday, he was placed aboard a flight supposedly bound for Pakistan. When the aircraft stopped in Los Angeles, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested him.

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