The Man Who Armed Iraq

The federal judge who heard the case, Judge Joseph Eaton, accepted the plea and obliquely referred to sealed motions presented by both the defense and prosecution. Judge Eaton said he had come to the conclusion that it was "recognized by the government that this man is in...some part of international business, a legitimate one."

Some of those who work for Soghanalian are past employees of the Central Intelligence Agency. For example, James Cunningham, a one-time executive at Soghanalian's Pan Aviation, worked for the CIA for more than twenty years. From l966 to l974, Cunningham was vice president of the Laos division of Air America, a CIA proprietary that was later exposed as having played a key role in the agency's covert military efforts in Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam era. In his resume, Cunningham boasted that while in the CIA he also served as a "senior administrative project officer" for a succession of "highly classified, major aviation and aerospace projects" and had assisted "the highest level political negotiations both domestic and foreign" by providing "covert aerial support."

If there is one regret in Sarkis Soghanalian's life, it appears to be the fame and renown that has come to his competitor, Saudi arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi, who assisted the Reagan Administration in its secret arms sales to the Ayatollah Khomeini. Says a business associate: "Just the mention of Khashoggi's name drives Sarkis nuts. He resents all the attention Khashoggi receives."

Gerald Richman, a former Miami congressional candidate and Soghanalian's long-time attorney, remembers having dinner with Soghanalian one night in a Paris restaurant when Khashoggi, accompanied by a beautiful young woman, arrived and sat down at a nearby table. "Khashoggi sent over a bottle of Dom Perignon," recalls Richman, "but Sarkis sent it back. And then he got up from the table and said in a loud voice, `At least I am here tonight with my wife.'"

Col. Jack Brennan, the former Nixon aide and Soghanalian business associate, recalls a later, similar episode. He, too, was dining in a Paris restaurant one night when Khashoggi's wife arrived: "There were only three of us in Sarkis's party: Sarkis, myself, and a [female companion]. He ordered an entire case of Dom Perignon and gave a bottle away to everyone at the restaurant. It was his way of telling Khashoggi, `I'm better than you.'"

The feud has at times become very public. Soghanalian boasted to one interviewer: "I don't see Khashoggi as competition. He's not a weapons technician. He throws parties and introduces people. Clients don't come to me because I'm handsome or charming." (Here Soghanalian can hardly be accused of understatement. Unlike the suave and erudite Khashoggi, Soghanalian is a rotund 300 pounds. In court testimony, he once asserted that he is so disabled by his obesity that he is "unable to walk any great distance, and in fact, need a golf cart even to walk around my offices.")

In a sworn deposition, Soghanalian testified that, unlike Khashoggi, "I go to the country, line up the troops, see what they need, and how to make military dollars go the furthest." He claimed to be a frequent visitor to battlefields, most notably during the Iran-Iraq war. It was during one such visit that he became an "Iraqi hero of the day." While touring the front, Soghanalian claimed, he stumbled across a patrol of Iranian soldiers. Fortunately he was armed, and they surrendered to him. The episode was even more extraordinary in light of the fact that it supposedly occurred during the time Soghanalian had sworn to the federal court he was confined to his golf cart.

Soghanalian's weight problem may inhibit his mobility, but it has not stopped him from amassing an impressive list of lucrative weapons deals. In l981 he brokered perhaps his largest single sale to Iraq, the previously mentioned $1.4 billion shipment of French howitzers that had the secret backing of the Reagan Administration. French officials agreed to supply the big guns, Soghanalian said during a deposition, but only if they could disguise their role. At the time, the Iranian government exerted control over the fate of several French citizens being held hostage in the Mideast, Soghanalian testified, and the Mitterand government did not want to antagonize the Ayatollah Khomeini. To accommodate the subterfuge, Soghanalian agreed to mask the real source of the arms through a series of complicated transactions known to those involved by the code name "Vulcan."

The French government agreed to pay Soghanalian and his brother, Zaven, a six-percent commission. Zaven later sued his brother, alleging that he was cheated out of his rightful commission, which he estimated to be between $48 million and $64 million.

The trial was to begin this past May. On the first day, Zaven's attorneys entered into the record the deposition of a high-level Iraqi military officer. Among other things, the Iraqi recounted that he and his fellow officers felt so close to Soghanalian they arranged a birthday party for him in Baghdad. The high point of the party came when some of the army officers - apparently in the tradition of William Tell - put apples on the heads of their female companions and tried to shoot them off. They did not use bows and arrows, however, but live ammunition from their sidearms.

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