NewsNewsChannel 5 Investigates


Smuggling Ring Sent Guns From Nashville To Australia

Posted at 1:09 PM, Mar 11, 2014
and last updated 2015-09-07 14:42:08-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It sounds like the script from a summer movie. Federal agents in Nashville worked with investigators from Australia to break up an elaborate gun smuggling ring.

The initial raid was big news half way around the world last year.

News programs in Australia reported that when authorities searched an apartment in New South Wales, they found numerous guns.

One TV reporter in Australia revealed one of the guns, "sparked the interest of detectives. It was traced to Nashville, Tennessee."

Australian authorities were in the midst of a crackdown of gun trafficking because of an increase in drive-by shootings and gun related violence.

They called the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) office here in Nashville.

The investigation led federal agents to search an auto business on East Thompson Lane last year.

According to court papers, the business was a place where some of the guns and money exchanged hands.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates went there and found Ali Kassem, who works at the business, and is one of five people charged in the case.

Kassem is currently out on bond and not talking about the charges.

"There's nothing for me to say. I would like to talk about it but I can't," Kassem said.

Court documents detail how the Nashville guns were shipped to Australia hidden inside car engine blocks.

Federal agents allege two "Lebanese nationals" from Australia came to Nashville with large amounts of cash and bought guns at gun shows, or had straw purchasers buy them from licensed dealers.

ATF Special Agent in Charge Jeff Fulton, could not talk about the Australian case, but said the Nashville office is investigating several international gun trafficking cases.

Strict gun laws in other countries make guns very valuable on the black market.

"It can be five, fifteen, twenty times profit involved when that gun is resold in a foreign country," Fulton said.

Federal agents allege in court documents that Australian suspects Mohamed Metleg and Nawak Chaouk met gun buyers at the auto repair business and paid them for guns they bought.

One source claims in the court documents, that Metleg and Chaouk and other "middle eastern" men had an "unlimited supply of money" for buying guns and drugs.

The court documents then detail the most surprising part.

Agents say Metleg and Chaouk bought engine blocks from local scrap yards, took the engines apart and hid guns and cocaine inside before shipping the engine blocks to Australia.

Agents claim the Australian men rented UHAUL box trucks and parked behind a Nashville motel on Spence Lane.

That's where they took the engines blocks apart and hid the guns, according to court records.

Australian authorities believe the guns were used by gangs in violent crimes.

Court documents state Metleg and Chaouk traveled back and forth to Nashville several times before agents made arrests.

Federal agents arrested Kassem, and two others, Gregory Lee Gregory and Philip Brent Johnson in Nashville.

The Australian suspects Metleg and Chauok were arrested in Australia and are fighting extradition to the United States.

No word on how much longer it will take to get the Australian men back to the United States for trial.

They face a host of gun and drug related charges.