German jailed in bid to buy arms for Libya

Jan. 11, 2002 at 2:32 AM
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Jan. 11 (UPI) -- A German citizen accused of trying to purchase military airplane and helicopter engines for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is being held in a Jacksonville jail Friday following a year-long operation by federal authorities.

Klaus Ernest Buhler, 48, of Dusseldorf, Germany, who is charged with two counts of attempting to export military engines to Libya without a license, is being held without bond. He was arrested Thursday while inspecting a helicopter engine at an undisclosed location in Nassau County, Fla.

The charges each carry maximum 10-year prison sentences. Selling anything to Libya is a violation of a 1986 trade embargo instituted by President Reagan against the North African country.

The investigation began when Defense Department officials were informed of Buhler's attempt to purchase 10 C-130 cargo plane engines from Rolls Royce Inc. in August 2000. The company refused to sell him the parts because he lacked the required federal export licenses.

He allegedly told them he was a German commercial pilot representing an African company called A&B Flights, which he claimed was connected to the Israeli government. He made no further attempts to contact Rolls Royce. He also was unsuccessful in his attempt to buy Chinook engines from Honeywell.

In February, Rolls Royce alerted the U.S. Defense Security Service and provided it with Buhler's e-mail address.

Customs Agent Henry Connell began contacting him in March, posing as a supplier of military hardware. The two men met in the Delta Crown Room at Orlando International Airport in May. Unbeknownst to Buhler, the meeting was taped.

Buhler claimed to have open and friendly relations with Libya and said he was a personal friend with one of Gadhafi's ministers. The criminal complaint states, "Buhler described himself as very connected to Libya for the past 25 years and said he had a commission arrangement with the Libyan government for obtaining military equipment."

Connell said he operated an export business in Jacksonville. Buhler allegedly agreed to pay $25,000 to have one engine stolen. Buhler only managed to pay $12,500, according to the complaint. The equipment was to be shipped first to South Africa. A total of $5.6 million was offered for six Chinook engines.

Plans for Buhler to visit Jacksonville in late September to see the engines were delayed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. His trip this week was arranged after Connell assured Buhler he would be able to ship the engines despite heightened security.

A bond hearing will be held Friday. Prosecutors want bond denied, because they fear Buhler will flee back to Germany, which allows the sale of military equipment to Libya.

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