Computer Suspect Called Part of Ring

By George Volsky
The New York Times

MIAMI, Dec. 23, 1988 -- A Dutch citizen arrested here on charges of smuggling computers to the Soviet bloc led one of the largest such operations known to Government officials, investigators said today.

''The indictment of Eddy Gorandus Haak is only the tip of an iceberg,'' said Patrick T. O'Brien, head of the Miami office of the Customs Service. ''The investigation is still going on.''

He said the Customs Service believed that about half a dozen companies in the United States, the same number in Western Europe and perhaps 30 people were involved in the smuggling of computers from the United States to the Soviet bloc. In recent years Federal officials have acknowledged that the smuggling of advanced computers is widespread despite the Reagan Administration's accelerated enforcement efforts.

'Exploring New Leads'

''We estimate that this year alone the total of the operations we are looking into could exceed $100 million, and we are still exploring new leads that have opened up,'' Mr. O'Brien said.

The Federal authorities said that in taped conversations the 42-year-old Mr. Haak said he shipped 10 computers from the United States this year and 100 computer systems in the last 10 years.

Mr. Haak, who owns a company in Brussels that deals in secondhand computers, pleaded not guilty Thursday. His request for bail was denied, and he is being held in a Federal prison here. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 35 years in prison and fined $5.75 million.

The Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting the case, Thomas A. W. Fitzgerald, said the Government knew of six attempts by Mr. Haak to smuggle computers from the United States this year. He said four shipments destined for a nonexistent company in Saudi Arabia were apparently diverted in Europe to the Eastern bloc. A fifth shipment was stopped in Massachusetts and a sixth in Amsterdam.

Undercover Shipping Company

In an interview, Mr. O'Brien said the Customs Service set up an undercover shipping company in Miami when officials learned that several European dealers were interested in shipping computers that may not be exported without a Government license.

''Our first job, a trial run really, was to ship to Bulgaria a small $50,000 computer which we had altered lightly so as to render it useless,'' Mr. O'Brien said. ''But to them the computer looked fine and gave them confidence that we could deliver.''

Several meetings followed in Miami and Frankfurt, West Germany, between undercover customs agents, Mr. Haak and two other European dealers. In September, it was decided that for $50,000 the undercover company would arrange for the shipment to Bulgaria of a $1.5 million Vax 8800 computer manufactured by the Digital Equipment Corporation of Los Angeles.

According to the Haak indictment, the Vax 8800 appears on the United States Commodity Control List and cannot be exported without a license. Mr. O'Brien said the equipment can be part of systems that operate ballistic missiles, radar installations and mass transit.

''During our conversations they not only asked us to purchase computersbut also to launder money,'' Mr. O'Brien said, speaking of Mr. Haak and his associates. ''For them this was purely a business venture. They indicated they would buy for and sell to anyone who would pay. Their mark-up was 100 percent; there was nothing ideological about these guys.''

Money Was 'Not a Problem'

In October, customs agents in Miami were told that the Vax 8800 computer had been bought by Orion International, a Chicago company. Later, Mr. O'Brien said, the computer was sent to a Boston company to be modified for the 50-cycle electric current used in Europe and the Soviet bloc. On Dec. 14 customs agents seized the computer and arrested Mr. Haak at Miami International Airport.

''While we were dealing with Haak and others, they were talking about purchasing several Vax's,'' Mr. O'Brien said. ''They were dealing not only with us; a number of other American companies have been apparently involved in this operation.

''Our special group in Virginia is trying to identify all these international techno-bandits so that we can indict and extradite them,'' Mr. O'Brien said.

He added that Mr. Haak did not know he was dealing with undercover agents ''until the last moment.''

''During the last hour before he was arrested,'' Mr. O'Brien said, ''he gave us new orders for restricted computers worth millions of dollars and said that money was not a problem.'' 

Copyright 1988 The New York Times Company