Harvard And Cambridge Alum With Alleged Accomplice Charged With Conspiring To Export Weapons To South Sudan

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John Oyewale Contributor
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A Harvard and Cambridge alumnus and an alleged accomplice were charged with conspiring to export assorted weapons to South Sudan, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said Tuesday.

Abraham Chol Keech, 44, of Utah, and Peter Biar Ajak, 40, of Maryland, conspired “to purchase and illegally export millions of dollars’ worth of fully automatic rifles, grenade launchers, Stinger missile systems, hand grenades, sniper rifles, ammunition, and other export-controlled items from the United States to South Sudan,” federal prosecutors alleged in part, according to the DOJ’s statement.

The duo, “as well as others known and unknown, have conspired to violate and violated U.S. export laws” for their involvement in the “illegal scheme” to “purchase and attempt to export” the weapons, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent Jeremy Kiser alleged in a complaint to the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. The United Nations imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan in 2018 and extended it till May 2024. South Sudan, independent in 2011, was embroiled in a civil war in 2013 and has been mired in violence since then despite a peace deal in 2018, ABC News reported.

Keech is a U.S. citizen originally from Sudan and serving as “a coordinator for opposition groups in South Sudan,” according to the complaint. Ajak is “an asylee born in South Sudan” who “currently serves as a fellow at a U.S. university and regularly authors articles regarding South Sudan’s political and economic future.” Six other unnamed persons in the complaint are two naturalized U.S. citizens, a legal permanent resident, a former Department of State employee, a former U.S. military servicemember, and a “weapon’s expert” with a Canadian passport. (RELATED: Jack Teixeira Pleads Guilty For Leaking Classified Pentagon Docs)

Ajak is a former child soldier, “purported peace activist,” political prisoner, former World Bank economist, and a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS) Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Semafor reported. He was awarded a Master in Public Administration in International Development at Harvard in 2009 and a PhD in Politics and International Studies from the University of Cambridge. An HKS Non-resident Middle East Initiative Fellow, he was due to deliver a seminar titled, “Reviving the Spirit of South Sudan” Feb. 8, but Harvard announced it was canceled.

Keech and Ajak allegedly “sought to illegally purchase weapons and related export-controlled items from undercover law enforcement agents and smuggle those weapons and items from the United States to South Sudan through a third country” between at least February 2023 and February 2024 despite being aware of the illegality of the purchase and export, according to the DOJ. The pair allegedly intended to disguise the weapons, worth $4 million, as humanitarian aid and allegedly considered paying bribes.

The duo face up to 50 years in total in prison if convicted, the DOJ said.