British Investigate Murky Arms Deal Involving Ukraine, Embargoed Nation

KIEV, Ukraine -- Once again, nation's reputation takes a hit after arms allegedly end up in an outlaw African nation facing an international arms embargo.

Ukraine's Kolchuga radar

The United Kingdom government is investigating a British arms broker in a sale of light arms originating from Ukraine to an undisclosed country under international embargo. Although no claims have been filed against Ukraine so far, the country is implicated in improper licensing procedures of a foreign company.

According to a report released by the British parliament in August, “the Ukrainian State Service for Export Control had licensed the export of light arms from the Soviet stockpile of weapons. The end users on the list included countries for which there are foreign and Commonwealth restrictions on the export of strategic goods.”

The arms in question were the famous AK-47 Kalashnikov automatic rifles, and the final destination was reportedly a country on the African continent. The value of the contract, the name of the broker and the country of destination remain undisclosed because the investigation is still ongoing.

The parliamentary report expressed great concerns that the “U.K. embassy in Kyiv, the Export Control Organization and HM Revenue & Customs were all unaware of the ongoing deals with British arms brokers that received licenses from Ukrainian State Export Control.”

The U.K. embassy did not comment. However, the Ukrainian arms licensing body dismisses the accusations as nonsense and mistranslation.

“According to Ukraine’s legislation, we can only grant licenses to Ukrainian companies and so we have been doing. We are talking about mistake in translation here,” said Valeriy Antonenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian State Service for Export Control. He said the verb “to license” in English can mean having permission or a contract for something, not a government-approved paper.

When brokering a deal outside their home country, the British mediators still require a license from the U.K. government called Open General Trade Control License (Trade and Transportation: Small Arms and light weapons), according to an expert of Safe World non-governmental organization specializing in research of small arms trade.

Each contract is supposed to have an end-user certificate, indicating the buyers and the country of final destination.

Paul Holtom, leader of the arms transfers program at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, says it’s not all that simple with the end user certificates. “There have been cases when the end-user certificates have been forged and officials were bribed to sign them,” Holtom said.

And even if a proper end-user certificate is used, there is no guarantee that the arms won't go beyond its official destination. “Very often exporting countries lack means and desire to track their weapons after it reached its final buyer. They wash their hands of it,” said Holtom.

Light weapons are especially difficult to control, according to Valentyn Badrak, director of the Center for Military Research, Peace and Conversion, a Ukrainian non-government organization.

Ukraine is the world’s 10th biggest exporters of weapons, selling about $ 1 billion worth of arms and military equipment, or 1 percent of the world’s total but 10 percent of weapons to Africa. Especially popular are Kalashnikovs inherited from Soviet days, but Ukranian arms are also cheap.

Ukraine has been implicated in other questionable arms deals before.

One of the most recent blows to Ukraine’s reputation came after MV Faina, a merchant ship, was seized by Somali pirates in 2008. According to the papers, its cargo of 33 T-72 tanks, 73 packages of spare tank parts and 36 packages of RPG-7V shoulder-launched rocket-propelled grenade launchers were destined to Kenya. However, the cargo was labeled with GOSS abbreviation which commonly stands Government of South Sudan, which is currently under United Nations arms embargo.

Also, in 2002, the United States accused Ukraine of selling Kolchuga radar systems to Iraq while it faced an international embargo. And, in the 1990s, weapons were delivered to Liberia in defiance of a United Nations embargo.

Holtom says many accusations turn out to be false. “Whenever there is a military aircraft from a former Soviet Union country it is automatically assumed that there is something fishy about it,” he said. “But very often cargo is legitimate, at least paper-wise.”

Source: Kyiv Post

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