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U.S. Justice Dept. Charges Harvard Kennedy School Fellow with Arms Trafficking

Peter B. Ajak, a non-resident fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center, is facing federal charges realted to allegedly smuggling weapons itnto South Sudan.
Peter B. Ajak, a non-resident fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center, is facing federal charges realted to allegedly smuggling weapons itnto South Sudan. By Addison Y. Liu
By William C. Mao and Dhruv T. Patel, Crimson Staff Writers

Peter B. Ajak, a non-resident fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, was charged with conspiring to illegally export “millions of dollars’ worth” of weapons to armed groups in South Sudan, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In a federal criminal complaint unsealed Monday, prosecutors charged Ajak and fellow activist Abraham C. Keech with attempting to smuggle arms — including missile systems, sniper rifles, and grenade launchers — from the United States to South Sudan through a third, undisclosed country.

The complaint also alleged that Ajak and Keech attempted to purchase arms from undercover law enforcement agents “to effect a nondemocratic regime change in South Sudan.”

Ajak, who obtained a master’s in public administration from HKS in 2009, was put on administrative leave on Wednesday following the DOJ charges.

An HKS spokesperson declined to comment for this article. Ajak did not respond to a request for comment.

A leading South Sudanese activist and scholar, Ajak was detained in 2018 by the South Sudan National Security Service on charges of treason. A 2019 report from law firm Perseus Strategies alleged that while detained, Ajak “received restricted food — only one meal per day — and had little or no access to medical care.”

In 2020, after Ajak said South Sudan’s president ordered him abducted or killed, the U.S. government helped Ajak and his family flee to the United States, where he has since lived in exile.

Ajak served as a postdoctoral fellow in the HKS Belfer Center’s International Security Program from 2022 to 2023. There, he researched “the evolving trajectories of state formation in South Sudan,” according to the Belfer Center’s website.

Matthew G. Olsen, Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in the DOJ statement that “the defendants sought to unlawfully smuggle heavy weapons and ammunition from the United States into South Sudan.”

South Sudan, Olsen said, is “a country that is subject to a U.N. arms embargo due to the violence between armed groups, which has killed and displaced thousands.”

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate the illicit export of weapons overseas, and we will hold accountable those who would violate our laws,” he added.

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at william.mao@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @williamcmao.

—Staff writer Dhruv T. Patel can be reached at dhruv.patel@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @dhruvtkpatel.

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