A dual U.S.-Israeli citizen who serves as the co-director of a Maryland-based think tank was indicted on July 10 for allegedly engaging in multiple international criminal schemes.
According to court documents, Gal Luft, 57, is charged in an eight-count indictment with offenses related to willfully failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), arms trafficking, Iranian sanctions violations and making false statements to federal agents. Luft was arrested on Feb. 17 in the Republic of Cyprus based on the charges in the indictment. Luft subsequently fled after being released on bail while extradition proceedings were pending and remains a fugitive.
According to the allegations contained in the indictment, for years, Luft conspired with others in an effort to act within the United States to advance the interests of the People’s Republic of China (China) as agents of China-based principals, without registering as foreign agents as required under U.S. law. As part of this scheme, while serving as the co-director of a Maryland-based nonprofit think tank, Luft agreed to covertly recruit and pay, on behalf of principals based in China, a former high-ranking U.S. government official (Individual-1), including in 2016 while the former official was an adviser to the then-President-elect, to publicly support certain policies with respect to China without Luft or Individual-1 filing a registration statement as an agent of a foreign principal with the Attorney General of the United States, in violation of FARA.
Among other things, in the weeks before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Luft and a co-conspirator (CC-1), who is a Chinese national and worked for a Chinese nongovernmental organization affiliated with a Chinese energy company, created a written “dialogue” between CC-1 and Individual-1, in which Luft wrote Individual-1’s responses and included information that was favorable to China. The dialogue was then published in a Chinese newspaper online and sent to, among others, individuals in the United States, including a journalist and professors at multiple U.S. universities. When Luft was writing the dialogue, CC-1 told Luft that “[i]n these articles, we do not want to spill all the beans yet, just enough to let ‘people’ know he [i.e., Individual-1] is in the corridor of power to be. Just broad stroke policy consideration that leaves plenty of room for interpretation and imagination to be filled in later.” After the purported “conversations” were published, Luft told CC-1 that certain information, favorable to China, had been “tucked between the lines.” Shortly after the 2016 election, Luft and CC-1 also discussed possible roles Individual-1 might have in the incoming U.S. administration, and discussed Individual-1 taking a “silent trip” to China. Luft responded that “[w]e are debating about his role in the new admin. There are all kinds of considerations . . .We should talk ftf [i.e., face-to-face] as there can be a supremely unique opportunity for china.”
Second, Luft conspired with others and attempted to broker illicit arms transactions with, among others, certain Chinese individuals and entities. In his role as a broker or middleman, Luft worked to find both buyers and sellers of certain weapons and other materials, without a license to do so as required under U.S. law, in violation of the Arms Export Control Act. Among other things, Luft worked to broker a deal for Chinese companies to sell certain weapons to Libya, including anti-tank launchers, grenade launchers and mortar rounds (which Luft and his associates referred to in coded language as “toys”). Luft also worked to broker deals for certain weapons to be sold to the United Arab Emirates, including aerial bombs and rockets. Luft further worked to broker deals for certain weapons to be sold by a Chinese company to Kenya, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – and specifically “strike” UAVs, which Luft acknowledged “[t]he U.S. doesn’t want to sell[, . . .] hence the opportunity.” Luft also discussed brokering a deal for weapons to Qatar, and told CC-1 that Israel was “not a good fit” as the middleman for the deal because it had the “[s]ame problem the  Q [i.e., Qataris] have w uncle [i.e., the United States]. Need a third party. . . . I will activate.” In his role as a broker for illicit arms deals, Luft worked on a commission basis, and traveled to meetings and received and passed on documentation needed to secure the deals. During a voluntary interview with U.S. law enforcement in which he was asked questions about his involvement in arms trafficking, Luft made multiple false statements, including that he had just been checking prices for a friend and had not sought to engage in or profit from arms deals.
Third, Luft conspired with others and attempted to broker deals for Iranian oil – which he directed an associate to refer to as “Brazilian” oil in an effort to conceal the activity and evade sanctions – in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). In his role as a broker or middleman, Luft solicited buyers and passed on pricing and other information. One offer letter for Iranian oil that Luft received noted that the “origin” of the oil was “Iranian / It can be presented as UAE origin without Iranian papers.” He also assisted in setting up meetings between Iranian representatives and a Chinese energy company for the purpose of discussing oil deals. During a voluntary interview with U.S. law enforcement in which he was asked about his role brokering deals in Iranian oil, Luft made multiple false statements, including that he had tried to prevent oil deals with Iran and had not been present during meetings with the Chinese energy company and Iranians.
Luft is charged with eight offenses in total, including violation of the Arms Export Control Act, which alone carries a maximum prison term of 20 years. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The FBI New York Field Office and FBI’s Counterintelligence Division are investigating the case, with valuable assistance provided by the IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel C. Richenthal and Catherine Ghosh for the Southern District of New York and Trial Attorney Scott Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.
Readers with any information about Luft’s whereabouts can contact their local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate. Tips can be reported anonymously and can also be reported online at tips.fbi.gov.