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Thai brothers sentenced in gun parts smuggling scheme

Thai brothers sentenced in gun parts smuggling scheme
Thai brothers sentenced in gun parts smuggling scheme
Thai brothers sentenced in gun parts smuggling scheme

SEATTLE — Two Thai national brothers were sentenced Friday to federal prison time for leading a scheme to smuggle firearms components from the U.S. to Thailand.

Nares Lekhakul, 36, a U.S. lawful permanent resident living in Bellevue, will serve 24 months in prison and his brother Naris Lekhakul, 42, will serve 36 months. Both men were arrested in June 2013 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). They pleaded guilty to conspiracy to illegally export firearms components last October.

According to court documents, Nares Lekhakul and four other co-conspirators facilitated the shipment of firearms components such as pistol magazines to Naris Lekhakul, who was living in Thailand. The group violated U.S. export controls by not obtaining the required State Department export licenses. Prosecutors say they concealed their efforts by mislabeling packages as "hobby parts" or "glow in the dark marker sets." The group used fake names and invoices and packed various firearms components in specific ways to thwart detection by X-ray scanners.

The brothers' operation hit a snag in 2011 when a shipment was seized by law enforcement. That is when they recruited the four co-conspirators. The co-conspirators used their U.S. addresses to receive parts from U.S. suppliers and then re-shipped the items to Thailand using the brothers' methods of concealment. In all, the defendants are believed to be responsible for more than 240 shipments of restricted firearms components.

"These defendants purposely circumvented U.S. arms controls put in place to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of transnational criminal organizations and foreign enemies," said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle. "Enforcing these export laws is a priority mission for HSI special agents."

Co-conspirators Witt Sittikornwanish, 24, and Sangsit Mowanna, 35, U.S. citizens from Los Angeles, have each been sentenced to 10 months in prison. Thai national Supanee Saenguthai, 35, of Berkeley, Calif., was placed on probation. Wimol Brumme, 41, a Thai national living in Las Vegas has also pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

The U.S. Munitions List, primarily administered by the State Department as part of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, lists defense articles and services that cannot be exported without a license issued by the department, including the firearms' parts and components shipped in this case. As a result, the export of firearms components requires an export license.

HSI investigated the case with the assistance of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington prosecuted the case with assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice's National Security Division, Counterespionage Section .