PBS Frontline | May 2002
... Another possible explanation emerged in a recent F.B.I. investigation of Lasnaud's son, Alexandre, for unrelated charges. In a tape made as part of that undercover investigation, Alexandre bragged to an informant that his father collaborated with the CIA. He claimed he and his father were attempting to buy Chinese radar equipment for the U.S. military.
"What we're ordering, okay, is top secret, top secret sh-[that] the United States Military, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy want," Alexandre Lasnaud said, according to the transcript. "But it's not something that they publicize all over the world, saying we are seeking this, okay? ...They talked to my dad yesterday and they reiterate, we need this thing fast."
"It's [not] something that the Democrats and Congress would understand -- that the United States Army is paying people to purchase foreign military items -- even though it's for the purpose of training American troops."
Jean-Bernard Lasnaud is authorized to do business with the U.S. government and he proudly publishes his Defense Logistics Information Service license number on his Web site. ....
Lasnaud is accused of brokering the sale of more than 70 tons of rifles and ammunition to Ecuador. To facilitate the deal, he partnered with Navy Capt. Horacio Estrada, who has been accused of torture and murder during Argentina's "Dirty War."
It was a sweet deal gone bad. In February 1995, three shipments of what turned out to be old and defective weapons were flown to Quito. Rifles were missing their cleaning mechanisms and bayonets. Boxes were stamped with recent dates, but the ammunition was manufactured as far back as 1972.
The Ecuadorian military was outraged. Lasnaud and Estrada scrambled to apologize. In a handwritten fax, Lasnaud and Estrada offered Russian anti-tank missiles to make up for their faux pas. The apology was apparently accepted, because Estrada received a transfer of $1.85 million from the Junta de Defensa Nacional de Quito. He had already issued a payment of $22,000 to Lasnaud a few days earlier.
By July 1995, Ecuador tried to cancel the balance of its contract with Lasnaud's Caribbean Group, but 9.2 million cartridges were already on their way to Quito. This time the supplies came from Iran, because Argentina was attracting too much press. Details of the deal had leaked just days after the weapons landed in Ecuador. It now appears that the Ecuador sale was an attempt by a relative of President Menem to turn the dregs of Argentina's arsenal into quick cash. It was a sloppy deal that thrust a reluctant Lasnaud into the international spotlight.
Death of a Witness
Three years later, in 1998, Lasnaud was home in Florida, still brokering helicopters, small arms and anti-aircraft missile launchers with his partner Estrada. But in August 1998, Estrada was interrogated by an Argentinean judge for his role in the Croatia and Ecuador sales. Estrada issued a written statement to the court insisting that although he knew Lasnaud, they never completed a business transaction together.
Four days later, Estrada was found shot dead in his Buenos Aires apartment. Police investigators ruled the death a suicide. They found 92 email messages from Lasnaud in Estrada's computer, all sent during the previous week and a half.
One last email message urgently requested shipment of 1,500 rifles to Sierra Leone, where arms to rebel forces have been embargoed since 1997. Lasnaud signed off with, "Funds are available for this operation immediately. Best Regards, Juan."
Estrada never read Lasnaud's final request. He was already dead.