The Miami Herald has today (Thursday 31 October 2019) reported that USA citizen Peter Sotis of 'Add Helium' was arrested on 29 October 2019 by Federal agents.
The Department of Justice confirmed in a press release that the 55-year-old Floridian "was arrested based on an indictment charging him with conspiracy to violate and attempted violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), as well as smuggling of goods."
In plain English in 2016 Sotis was accused of conspiring to smuggle 'high-tech scuba gear', ie rebreathers, to Libyan nationals. It is alleged that Sotis' company 'Add Helium' sold four rEvo rebreather units for approximately US$100,000 violating US trade laws, and export embargoes imposed against the war-torn nation. The shipment was flagged and detained by federal agents in the summer of 2016. It is not clear what happened to the shipment.
It is possible that Sotis also sold underwater propulsion equipment, ie DPVs to a person described in court documents as a "Libyan militant."
On 10 August 2017 FLKeysnews reported that an agent from the US Department of Commerce’s Office of Export Enforcement wrote to 'Add Helium' stating that they would issue "a subpoena for “all shipment made to Libya, either directly or through means of transshipping, from 8/30/2011 to present. Please note that after this subpoena is completed, I will be issuing another for ALL exports made by Add Helium for the past five years."
In the same article FLKeysnews published the following statement. “If I were under investigation I would have been arrested by now and the very least my passport would have been confiscated. It’s clear from my Facebook page and my numerous international trips this year that my passport has not been confiscated,” he wrote. “It’s been over a year since this transaction took place and if the federal government had a problem, we would already know about it."
This Peter Sotis case highlights the importance of conforming [with export licensing requirements]. Martin Parker, AP Diving
'Dual Purpose Controlled Devices
It should be noted that rebreathers are deemed 'dual purpose controlled devices'. Leon Scamahorn of InnerSpace Systems stated on social media "Failure to get a license prior to exporting, you can go to jail and lose everything. An export is anything that leaves and crosses the US border and it’s territories."
Martin Parker of AP Diving also concurred. "When we launched the Inspiration the ECO were hit with too many applications from divers going on holiday, so they exempted divers who travel with their rebreather. Anyone who sells their rebreather cannot ship it outside of their Country without applying for a license. The EU is the exception for EU residents, you can ship from one EU Country to another EU Country without a license. AP have licenses to ship to and receive goods for servicing from many Countries. Our methodology and records are auditable at any time by the ECO. This Peter Sotis case highlights the importance of conforming [with export licensing requirements with all rebreathers]."
What happens next?
The Miami Herald has stated that "Peter Sotis now faces 35 years in federal prison and more that $1 million in fines after a grand jury last week indicted him on conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, attempting to smuggle goods to Libya and another smuggling charge."
Rob Stewart Fatality
On 31 January 2017 the filmmaker and environmentalist Rob Stewart was training and filming underwater sequences for a documentary on shark conservation. He was diving with Peter Sotis off the coast of Islamorada, Florida. When Rob Stewart and Peter Sotis surfaced from a third dive, Sotis appeared to have breathing difficulties. As a result the crew of the dive boat Pisces rushed Sotis on board. When the team turned around to retrieve Stewart, the 37 year-old Canadian conservationist had disappeared beneath the surface. His body was later recovered. In the Spring of 2017 Stewart's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit.