Monzer al-kassar

The Prince of Marbella, "The Peacock"


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1. Biography

 

Monzer al-Kassar, was born in 1945, and grew up in the town Nebek, which is just outside of Damascas in Syria. He had an older brother, Ghassan, who was also a prolific drugs and arms trafficker. Ghassan married the daughter of Gen. Ali Dubah, the head of Syrian intelligence, who also supervised narcotics production in occupied Lebanon. Ghassan and Monzer’s father was a diplomat who served as Syria’s ambassador to Canada and India. In 1981, Kassar married Raghdaa Habbal, the seventeen year old daughter of a prominent Syrian family based in Beirut. They had three daughters and a son.[1]

 

Kassar’s import-export company, Alkastronic, was based in Vienna. The company specialised in arms from Eastern Europe. From 1984 the DEA identified Kassar as the ‘drug-lord’ responsible for distribution of heroin and hashish in France, Italy, and Spain. Kassar at one point lived in Sloane Square in London. He served less than two years in a UK jail, when British authorities discovered a racket where drugs were smuggled out of Lebanon, which were then sold to buy weapons, which were in turn trafficked from Europe to Lebanon. In total Kassar has shown up in over 75 DEA investigations over a period of 20 years, while a 2003 United Nations report branded him an “international embargo buster.” He is said to have violated UN arms embargoes in Croatia, Bosnia and Somalia. [2]

 

He got his start in the arms trade when the government of Yemen asked him to buy rifles and pistols from Poland, where in the 1980s he served as the commercial attaché for the Yemenis. This led to a relationship where he assisted the Polish Military with illegal arms transactions up until 2002.[3]

 

Over the course of his career, Kassar came to be known in Europe as the ‘Prince of Marbella’, due to his lavish lifestyle and estate in Marbella in Spain, where he lived with his wife and children. While in the Arab world his nickame became the ‘Peacock’.[4]

 

The DEA used a turned former member of the Black September group (a Palestinian paramilitary group with whom he worked previously) to build a relationship with Kassar, claiming to have a ‘client’ in need of weapons. The ‘client’ was represented by two Guatemalan DEA informers posing as FARC representatives.  Over a series of meetings in 2007, Kassar agreed to supply the agents with nearly 12,000 weapons, including thousands of machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and surface to air missiles. It was planned the arms would be obtained from manufacturers in Bulgaria and Romania.  On travelling to Madrid to supposedly meet a senior FARC leader he was arrested by Spanish police on instruction from the US. In June 2008, he was flown from Spain to the US where he faced trial.[5]

 

Over the course of the trial, where Kassar faced charges of conspiring to kill US citizens, and supporting a foreign terrorist organisation, evidence was provided by Kassar’s defense about his close relationship with Spanish authorities and of how he had provided them with intelligence on terrorism and other matters over the years. He had wanted to introduce evidence of his co-operation with the US authorities, but this was deemed irrelevant to the case, and a potential threat to national security. Jurors found Kassar guilty and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Kassar is now serving his sentence at a federal prison in Marion, Illinois. [6]

 

Judge Rakoff, said during the trial: “I think it is fair to say that Mr. al-Kassar is a man of many faces.”[7]

 

 

 

2. Selected cases

 

Case 1:  Abbu Abbas, the Achille Lauro hijacking

 

Kassar is said to have supplied the weapons to Abu Abbas, who as leader of the Palestinian Liberation Front, led a hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship off the coast of Egypt in 1985. This culminated in the killing of a disabled American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, who was murdered by the hijackers and then thrown over board.[8]

 

 

 

Case 2: Somalia

 

In June 1992, six months after the UN had placed an arms embargo on Somalia, Kassar organised and sponsored a large shipment of weapons to the war-torn region. Kassar historically had used Polish arms producers who he had cultivated a close relationship with in the 1980s. When he was planning the shipment in May of that year, his usual documents roused suspicions in Poland. The Polish government however had agreed to donate a substantial number of arms to the newly created Latvian army, at the same time that Kassar was planning the deal. His main contact in Poland Jerry Dembrowski, director of the Polish arms company CENREX, befriended Jancis Dibrancs, the Chief of Procurement for the Latvian armed forces. Dibrancs agreed to help Dembrowski and produced documents showing the arms were destined for Latvia not Somalia. Dembrowski for his part agreed that he would ensure additional surplus Polish weaponry would be supplied to Latvia. The cargo which eventually reached Somalia contained 1000 sub-machine guns, 100 hand grenades, 300 AK-47s, 160 RPG launcgers, 10,000 mortar bombs, and 3,450,000 rounds of AK-47 ammunition.[9]The weapons were delivered to Ali Madhi Mohamed the Somali president and leader of a militia. During his presidency Mohamed sold off a number of state assets including the entire Somali shipping fleet. He used the proceeds of these sales to both enrich himself and to fund weapons purchases for his militia.[10]

 

 

 

Case 3: Iran Contra Scandal

 

The Iran Contra scandal was the highly controversial and illegal arrangement whereby the Americans sold weapons to Iran, which at the time was subject to a US arms embargo. The proceeds were then used to fund right-wing Nicaraguan rebels who were fighting to overthrow the left wing Sadinista government.

 

Oliver North’s front company, Enterprise, purchased $2.2m of illicit arms from Kassar. Between 1985 and 1986, Kassar was paid the money through a Swiss Bank account controlled by Oliver North, in return North received a hundred tons of assault rifles and ammunition. The weapons were bought from Cenzin in Poland and were eventually transferred to a CIA depot in the US where they were then transferred to the Contras.[11]

 

 

 

3. Other accusations

 

* According to the Washington Post, certain records indicate he may have been involved in procuring components of a Chinese anti-missile ship for Iran[12]

 

* A report in the library of congress claims Kassar had sold arms to Iranian militias in Cyprus, and explosives to a group headed by a known terrorist in Brazil.[13]

 

* Kassar is accused of helping the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.[14]

 

 

 

4. Additional information

 

Literature and articles about Monzer al-Kassar

 

Morstein, Manfred (German police investigator): Godfather of Terror (1991)

 

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