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Connecticut and Washington, D.C., lawyers for Arif Durrani, a Pakistani-born former arms dealer, are attempting to have his 1987 conviction overturned so he can rejoin his American wife and children in the United States. In a Bridgeport, Conn., trial before U.S. District Judge T. F. Gilmore Daly, then-federal prosecutor Holly Fitzsimmons won a 10-year conviction and $2 million in fines against Durrani. He was convicted of attempting to buy $347,000 in vacuum radio tubes made by a Danbury company, to be used in the launchers of Hawk missiles, for shipment to Iran. During the trial, Durrani’s lawyers were not allowed to present his most dramatic defense — that he was working for Lt. Col. Oliver North in a covert arms-for-hostages deal. Durrani, 50, is the son of the former director of procurement for the Pakistani army, who emigrated to the United States in 1973. According to new reports, he once owned a $2.5 million house in Los Angeles and a half dozen Mercedes, Rolls-Royce and Porsche luxury cars, but expended his assets in long legal battles. Last month, Durrani filed a motion to vacate his judgment of conviction through extraordinary writs used to correct long-standing legal wrongs. He is represented by Mark S. Zaid, of the Washington, D.C., firm of Lobel, Novins & Lamont and by Charles W. Pieterse, of the Greenwich, Conn., office of Whitman Breed Abbott & Morgan. Although Durrani was released from federal prison in 1992, “his suffering has not ended,” the brief states. In 1996, his conviction was redefined as an aggravated felony, and after he left the United States in 1998, he was barred from returning to his American wife and three American children. “This unforeseen consequence of his conviction has understandably caused a significant and unfair strain on his family life,” the 40-page legal memo states, adding that since he has paid his debt to society, his chance for a family life should be given back to him. Zaid, in an interview, said he has been working on Durrani’s case for years, and had intended to file in federal court in September. Due to public tension in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Zaid and Pieterse decided to delay filing until this year. Their brief untangles the secrecy-shrouded history of Durrani in covert international weapons sales over the past 20 years. His extensive knowledge of military spare parts made Durrani a valuable agent for foreign governments, including Iran’s, which sometimes asked him to inspect arms shipments purchased internationally, according to newspaper interviews Durrani granted while in federal custody in Bridgeport, Hartford and Oregon. The 1979 Tehran hostage crisis was closely tied to the election of Ronald Reagan. According to stories in The New York Times and New York magazine, which cited Durrani as a source, during the 1980 presidential campaign, the Reagan camp feared an “October Surprise” in which the Carter administration would dramatically free the hostages and sweep the November election. By some accounts, the Tehran government was promised military supplies for its conflicts with Iraq if Reagan won. Out of fear or favor, the hostages were dramatically released from custody in Tehran during Reagan’s swearing-in ceremonies in Washington. Those successes were the roots of the Iran-Contra saga, in which the Reagan administration engaged in covert arms sales to Iran in an effort to free a second group of hostages captured in Lebanon, and also to generate money for right-wing Nicaraguan forces. According to a 1987 congressional report summarized in Durrani’s memo of law, “On instructions from President Reagan, high-level government officials began a series of weapons shipments to Iran without either the required presidential finding or congressional notification. For example, in September 1985, Israel shipped 504 TOW missiles to Iran, and (civilian hostage) Reverend Benjamin Weir was released. President Reagan then authorized Israel to ship 80 of its own HAWK anti-aircraft missiles (“HAWKS”), which were to then be immediately replenished by the United States, in return for the release of all hostages.” Durrani’s story — the defense he wasn’t able to raise at trial — is that Oliver North met him in London in an attempt to complete weapons deals. Durrani’s expertise was in finding spare parts for weapons systems, particularly outdated ones. He met in London with a man going by the name of “White” who he later came to believe was North, who has used both “White” and “Goode” as aliases. North, who was prosecuted and convicted for obstruction of congressional investigations, invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying on Durrani’s behalf. In 1990, North went before a grand jury in Bridgeport in an investigation into whether some of Durrani’s legal defense documents, confiscated while he was imprisoned in Sheridan, Ore., were forgeries. Stanley A. Twardy Jr., then Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney, was critical of Durrani’s credibility at the time. Now a white-collar defense lawyer at the Stamford, Conn., offices of Day, Berry & Howard, Twardy recalled that CIA lawyers had an in camera meeting with Judge Daly to address Durrani’s claim that he was working for a covert U.S. operation. Twardy says Durrani got more of his story before the court than appears on the public record. As for Durrani’s bid to come back to the United States, Twardy said, “There’s no indication that he was a terrorist — he was a businessman who was selling Hawk missile parts — exporting, not importing.”

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