Britons, American and Indian smuggle gun in Afghanistan

Two Britons, an American and an Indian were scheduled to be tried on gun-smuggling charges Wednesday in a case a defense lawyer said is marred by procedural errors and a lack of evidence. The foreigners, jailed since their Oct. 13 arrests, face up to six years in prison if convicted in the Public Security Court in Kabul. Californian Sargon Heinrich, Indian Naveen Joshi and the Britons, Peter Eaton and Michael Shaw, were arrested in a police raid on the guest house where they were staying, Heinrich's lawyer, Najibullah Azizi, told The Associated Press.

Prosecutors claim the suspects were involved in a deal to sell 100 guns to an Afghan man, Azizi said Tuesday. He said prosecutors alleged one gun had been given as a sample to an undercover police officer who was posing as a buyer.

Police claimed they found five Kalashnikov rifles and two pistols in the raid, Azizi said. He said Heinrich, a businessman involved in construction in Afghanistan, had voluntarily handed over a pistol he had been given by a helicopter pilot for security because of his work in volatile parts of the country.

Azizi called Heinrich's arrest "a very big misunderstanding" and said prosecutors had no evidence of his guilt. He said Heinrich had no license for the pistol, but that under Afghan law, the possession or sale of a gun is not punishable by prison time.

Azizi claimed that police arrested the foreigners without approval from prosecutors and made other errors that tainted their case. He said he would appeal if Heinrich is convicted.

Heinrich, 40, of Rio Vista, California, had been working in Afghanistan with the U.S. security company Blackwater, based in Moyock, North Carolina, and an Afghan company, ACCL, in projects involving construction and training for Afghan border police, Azizi said. According to a letter on Blackwater letterhead that called for Heinrich's release, he and ACCL were awarded a subcontract to build a training building, driving track and shooting range.

Blackwater officials could not immediately be reached for comment, and U.S. Embassy officials said they could not comment on the case. A British embassy spokesman who was not authorized to give his name said this week diplomats were aware two Britons had been arrested and charged, were providing them with consular assistance and were in touch with their relatives, reports the AP. I.L.

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