In late August, US federal authorities finally won their global cat-and-mouse game with one of the longest-running and most artful arms trafficker on record with the arrest of Jacques Monsieur (“The Field Marshal) at New York's JFK airport.
A Belgian national and resident of France, Monsieur, 56, was king of a shadowy network for 29 years.
From the 1980s, he was hunted by various governments for shipping contraband weapons to every world trouble-spot subject to UN and US sanctions, so earning his nickname. The special system he developed for working around those sanctions depended on a ring of middle-men operating shady companies around the world. The Field Marshall's only hard-and-fast rule was: Always get paid. This depended on his picking the winning side in all the conflicts he supplied.
The US justice department's special beef with M. Monsieur dated from the 1985 Iran-Contra scandal since when he specialized in smuggling US-made weapons and components, including fighter jet engines, to Iran.
The law laid hands on him more than once, but for nearly three decades, he managed to wriggle out of custody – until late August 28, 2009, when he walked into the arms of US federal agents. They waited for him with a long indictment after luring him to New York with the promise of huge business deals, the bait in a vast US sting operation known in intelligence circles as Little Red Riding Hood.
The six-count indictment filed on Aug. 27, 2009, in the Southern District of Alabama, charges Monsieur and co-defendant Dara Fotouhi, aka Dara Fatouhi, 54, an Iranian national currently living in France, with conspiracy, money laundering, smuggling, violations of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
Fotouhi remains at large.
Aircraft engines for Iran made him – and trapped him
The indictment and attached affidavit, which describe the defendants Monsieur and Fotouhi as experienced arms dealers, cover only a fraction of the slippery Belgian's illicit activities. US investigators will need their own global network to fill in the blanks.
In February 2009, Monsieur is alleged to have contacted an undercover agent seeking engines for the Iran Air Force's US-made F-5 (EIF) fighter jet or the C-130 military transport aircraft. In May 2009, he met another undercover agent in London, where he introduced Fotouhi as his business associate and asked the undercover agent if he could obtain or use U.S. shipping or export authorization documents falsely attesting to the end user being located in Colombia.
In June 2009, Monsieur e-mailed the agent a purchase order for F-5 fighter jet parts from a front company used by an organization known as Trast Aero Space, located in Kyrgyzstan. The order requested that the parts be located by the undercover agent and illegally exported to the United Arab Emirates for transshipment to Iran.
The following month, Monsieur allegedly contacted the undercover agent indicating that approximately $110,000 had been wired from Dubai to a bank account in Alabama as payment for the parts. He also indicated that a deposit of $300,000 would be forthcoming as a down payment for two F-5 fighter jet engines. In August 2009, Monsieur requested information from the undercover agent about his contact in Colombia for forwarding the aircraft parts from Colombia to the United Arab Emirates.
The first solid information on the Field Marshal's nefarious career came from the Belgian federal police in 1986 after they found a suitcase in Brussels belonging to him with documents indicating he was in contact with the Israeli Mossad and other secret agencies as well as with Iran.
Over the years, the Belgian trafficker became adept at obtaining false “end user” certificates from many other countries, especially the former Zaire, to disguise his transactions.
In the 1990's the Field Marshal developed excellent contacts in France, both with the DST French intelligence agency and executives of the Elf Aquitaine French oil company. For seven years until 2000, he lived openly and safely in France while other European governments investigated his involvement in illegal arms trading.
But in 1999, French authorities too indicted him for weapons trafficking.
In September 2000, Monsieur told a French judge the CIA had contacted him in Brussels in 1991, after which he began pumping tens of millions of dollars worth of arms to Croatia, apparently with the French DST's blessing. For the next five years, his best customers were Croatia and Bosnia, both of whom were under a United Nations arms embargo at the time.
Upgrading outdated Iranian US-made hardware
A letter the Belgians found in his lost suitcase revealed that in 1991 he organized the transportation of tanks, transport helicopters, attack helicopters, and assault rifles to Angola.
In yet another episode shrouded in mystery, the Belgian gun-runner appears to have spent some time in an Iranian jail in 2000. By then, he had served as Tehran's import-export agent for military hardware for many years. His main function was to outmaneuver the US arms embargo and help the new republic maintain and upgrade the American military equipment left after Shah was overthrown in 1979. In 1992 Monsieur also gave the Iranian Air Force blueprints from the French company, Matra, for adapting its “Magic-2” air-to-air missile to US Phantom F-4 aircraft.
The French authorities suspect that the Field Marshall's arrest in Iran may have been staged to save him from French justice. In the beginning of 2001, French police discovered documents in Tarascon in the south of France revealing the existence of an offshore company named Telogis.
The French investigation continues, as does a Belgian inquiry. On May 11, 2002, Monsieur was arrested in Istanbul. Belgium, which has indicted him on charges of arms trafficking, sought his extradition. But somehow he obtained his release and remained at large for seven years, until he was apprehended in New York.