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American Charged With Money Laundering, Illegal Weapons Sale to Nigeria

Ara Dolarian, 58, was arrested on Wednesday, May 15, in Fresno, California, on a criminal complaint charging him with illegally brokering the sale of military-grade arms and munitions to Nigeria’s federal government under the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

He is also charged with money laundering, and conspiracy, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.

According to court documents, Dolarian was the owner and president of Dolarian Capital Inc. (DCI), an arms brokering company operating in Fresno; Washington, DC; and Sophia, Bulgaria. Dolarian is a United States citizen residing in Sophia, Bulgaria. Beginning in 2013 and continuing through 2014, the U.S. Department of State denied DCI licenses to broker international arms deals. During this time period, in which DCI was not authorized to broker international arms deals, Dolarian allegedly attempted to broker a multi-million dollar transfer of highexplosive bombs, rockets, military-grade firearms, and aircraft-mounted cannons from Eastern Europe and South Africa to the government of Nigeria.

Washington had in 2014 blocked Nigeria from acquiring heavy artillery to combat the Boko Haram citing the military’s alleged poor human rights records in the war against the terrorist group.

In furtherance of the arms deal, it is alleged that in June 2014, Dolarian executed sales contracts with Societe D’Equipments Internationaux (SEI), a French arms brokering company acting on behalf of Nigeria, for the purchase and transfer of highexplosive bombs, rockets, military-grade firearms, and aircraft-mounted cannons worth more than $8.5 million. Dolarian submitted a brokering application with the U.S. State Department in June 2014 for the proposed deal with Nigeria. This brokering application, along with a later one, was never approved by the State Department.

Without approval from the State Department, Dolarian allegedly accepted approximately $8.3 million from Nigeria and its broker, SEI. These funds were, in part, funneled by Nigeria through a purported furniture company in Hong Kong. Then they were routed through numerous shell accounts held by Dolarian, and others. Soon after obtaining the funds, Dolarian used them to pay off personal expenses, such as federal and state tax debts, and to buy a BMW SUV. In February 2015, the federal government seized over $6 million that remained in Dolarian’s accounts. Civil forfeiture proceedings related to that seizure are currently pending (Case No. 1:15-cv-954-DAD).

“Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) national security priorities include the investigation of violations of the arms export and money laundering control laws of the United States,” said Ryan L. Spradlin, HSI Special Agent in Charge. “Illegal arms brokering represents a threat, not only to U.S. national security, but to the security of the international community.”

This case is the product of an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations. This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Grant B. Rabenn and Jeffrey Spivak, and Department of Justice Trial Attorney Christian Ford of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Expert Control Section.

Dolarian made his initial appearance on the charges on Thursday and is scheduled for a detention hearing on May 20.

If convicted of unlicensed arms brokering, Dolarian faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine; a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy, and a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000 or up to twice the value of the property involved in the transactions, whichever is greater for money laundering. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. 

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