By Lowell Bergman
MIAMI (PBS Frontline) — Sarkis Soghanalian, the Lebanese-born arms dealer who sold weapons to rebels and autocrats, including Saddam Hussein, died of natural causes on Tuesday, October 4, in Miami. He was 78.
Featured in the 1990 documentary, “The Arming of Iraq,” Soghanalian spoke candidly about how, with secret support from the US government, he became the former Iraqi dictator’s major arms supplier during the peak of the Iran-Iraq war. Once fabulously wealthy, with a vast fleet of jet cargo planes and homes in a dozen countries including luxury villas in Miami and Palm Springs, and a horse ranch in Fort Lauderdale, he died virtually broke, his family insists.
Capable of negotiating in eight languages, Soghanalian was a Lebanese citizen of Armenian descent, who proclaimed he was also a “patriotic American.” For several decades, he had a close working relationship with the CIA and US military intelligence services. But eventually, these relationships soured when his weapons sales began running counter to US policy. Nor did he pay taxes on his arms- dealing: documents show that by the late 1990s, he had accumulated a massive IRS judgment nearing a billion dollars.
In his heyday, Soghanalian forged a close alliance with the Reagan administration, particularly with the office of then-Vice President George Bush. That alliance snapped when the US went to war with Iraq in 1991, and he was prosecuted for the sale of helicopters to Iraq during its war with Iran. Soghanalian always insisted that his sales to Iraq were done with Washington’s not-so-secret blessing.
Soghanalian also supplied Saddam with billions of dollars in weaponry from France, Brazil, Chile and Austria, in violation of a United Nations arms embargo. All this was done with the knowledge of the US government, according to Soghanalian, whose testimony was corroborated by officials interviewed for the documentary.