ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – A Virginia company run by a would-be arms merchant pleaded guilty Thursday to trying to sell guns, night vision goggles and other military equipment to people in Yemen, Libya and other foreign countries.
Ioannis "John" Papathanassiou, 51, of Vienna, Va., entered the guilty plea on behalf of his company, Taipan Enterprises Ltd., at a hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court, admitting that his company sought to broker arms deals without a license.
The company was ordered to pay a $15,000 fine, the amount recommended by prosecutors.
Papathanassiou's company was never actually able to sell any equipment, despite several years of effort.
According to court records, authorities became suspicious of Papathanassiou when he returned from a 2007 business trip to Brazil. Papathanassiou told customs agents that he had been meeting with Yemeni nationals to sell them farm equipment, but a search of his luggage found product brochures for military vehicles and handwritten notes referring to weapons.
In fact, Papathanassiou was trying to sell Swiss-made machine pistols and other military equipment to a contact in Yemen. Court records indicate that contact was Khalid Al-Rowaishan, who runs KNA General Trading Company in Sana'a, Yemen. An e-mail to company officials was not immediately returned Thursday.
After Thursday's hearing, Papathanassiou said his Yemeni contacts amounted to "one businessman who asked some questions about getting some military equipment."
Court records suggest that the Yemeni contact may have wanted to establish his own arms distributorship or do business with the Yemeni government. In one e-mail, Papathanassiou says his Yemeni client is looking for several thousand Glock pistols to outfit the Yemeni presidential guard.
Papathanassiou also tried to drum up business by seeking to sell night vision goggles to Libya, purportedly for use by that government's border patrols. He also sought to sell military equipment to a military contractor in Chile and armored vehicles to an unspecified end-user in Vietnam.
Papathanassiou spent much of his career working with military contractors and was aware that he had neglected to register his company as required with the U.S. State Department. He told the judge at Thursday's hearing that he was sorry for his actions.
Prosecutor James Gillis told the judge that the $15,000 fine "certainly in our view is an appropriate fine."
Defense lawyer John Hundley said the small fine is evidence that the company's misconduct was relatively minor.