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Ukraine Goes After Missile Dealers

KIEV -- A Ukrainian government probe into lucrative illicit weapons sales by officials loyal to former President Leonid Kuchma has led to secret indictments or arrests of at least six arms dealers accused of selling nuclear-capable missiles destined for Russia to Iran and China, a high-ranking intelligence official said Friday.

The deals with Moscow-allied nations -- which violate international nonproliferation treaties -- put pressure on Ukraine's new president to halt the country's well-established illegal arms trades as he tries to boosts ties with and join NATO and the European Union.

President Viktor Yushchenko has promised to investigate illicit weapons dealing, including a U.S. allegation that Kuchma approved the sale of a sophisticated Kolchuga radar system to Iraq despite UN sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime. Kuchma denied the allegations.

Ukraine's intelligence agency, the State Security Service, launched its investigation of the case involving Iran and China on Feb. 14, 2004, during Kuchma's presidency. But the probe was never publicized until this week when lawmaker Hrihoriy Omelchenko -- a reserve colonel in the intelligence service -- wrote to Yushchenko asking him to pursue a full investigation. Omelchenko made his letter available to The Associated Press.

Six missiles purportedly ended up in Iran and another six allegedly went to China, although export documents known as end-user certificates recorded the final recipient of some 20 Kh-55 missiles for sale as "Russia's Defense Ministry," according to Omelchenko's letter. He did not say what happened to the eight remaining missiles.

The missiles allegedly sold to Iran were unarmed, but are designed to carry 200-kiloton nuclear warheads. Western nations have accused Iran of trying to develop a nuclear weapons program, an allegation Tehran denies. China is a declared nuclear weapons state.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko and Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Vyacheslav Sedov said Ukraine had not informed Russia of the allegations that missiles meant for Moscow had been diverted, and that Moscow would await Ukraine's investigation. Russia's state arms export company, Rosoboronexport, declined comment.

Omelchenko's letter to Yushchenko and another to the Prosecutor General, Svyatoslav Piskun, refer to a Ukrainian Security Service report that includes details of the allegations.

At least three people were arrested and another three were indicted last year in connection with the illicit arms trade -- including some of those mentioned by name in the letters -- according to the intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to Omelchenko's letter, in 2000 Russian national Oleg Orlov and a Ukrainian partner identified as E.V. Shilenko "exported 20 Kh-55 cruise missiles through a fake contract and end-user certificate" with Russia's state-run arms dealer and with a firm called Progress, which is a daughter company of Ukrspetseksport -- Ukraine's weapons exporting agency.

Last year, Ukrainian prosecutors indicted Orlov and Shilenko in absentia for illegal weapons trading, the intelligence official said. Orlov was detained on July 13 in the Czech Republic.

There is an ongoing extradition procedure to return Orlov to Ukraine for possible prosecution, a spokesman for the Czech Justice Ministry, Petr Dimun, confirmed Friday. Dimun said the procedures were interrupted recently because Orlov suffered a stroke and was hospitalized, although he was "recovering well."

Shilenko remains at large, said Omelchenko's letter, which also notes an attempt on Orlov's life, saying: "The physical elimination of Orlov in a Czech prison was prevented."

The State Security Service has also issued an official inquiry about a Cyprus-based Russian man identified in the letters as G. K. Shkinov, who also remains at large.

"The law enforcement bodies of that country [Cyprus] are performing an investigation," Omelchenko wrote.

Another three Ukrainians were detained last year in connection with the deal, and the case was forwarded to a Kiev court, Omelchenko wrote.

Orlov is reputed to be a prominent weapons broker. In its 2001 report, the UN Security Council implicated Orlov and his Cyprus- and Dubai-based EMM Arab Systems Ltd. in sanctions busting related with ferrying weapons and supplies to Angola's rebel UNITA group. The Kh-55, known in the West as the AS-15, has a range of 2,975 kilometers and is designed to carry a nuclear warhead with a 200-kiloton yield. Iran does not operate long-range bombers but it is believed it could adapt its Soviet-built Su-24 strike aircraft to launch the missile. The missile's range would put Israel and a number of U.S. allies in the region within reach.

Ukrainian weapons dealers ferried missiles to China through a Ukraine-based cargo company run by a former secret service agent, the letters said. Omelchenko also said in 2001 that weapons dealers sent ground targeting systems, maintenance equipment and missile technicians to Iran.

Profits from the sales were estimated at $2.1 million or more, the letters said.

Valery Malev, the head of Ukrspetseksport, has also been implicated in the deals. But he died in 2002 in Ukraine when his car collided with a truck. Police concluded he fell asleep behind the wheel, but many speculate his car had been tampered with.

"Valery Malev, the head of Ukrspetseksport, knew that missiles were not exported to Russia but to third countries and with forged documents," Omelchenko wrote.

A multimillion-dollar deal involving sales of oil-processing equipment to Iran was used as a mask for the sales, Omelchenko's letters claim. They add that a Cyprus-based company, S.H. Heritage Holding Ltd., and Iran-based Satak Co. Ltd. of NIOC were involved in the concealment. Internet search and telephone inquiries turned up no information about the companies.

S.H. Heritage owner Haider Sarfraz, an Australian national, died in a 2004 car accident, the letters claim. They do not specify where the accident occurred.

Although Ukraine in the 1990s renounced the nuclear armaments it inherited in the Soviet breakup, the country remains a sizable producer of weapons including missiles, aircraft and tanks.

The country has also remained under scrutiny for its murky weapons deals. In 2000, the United States accused Ukraine of selling infantry weapons to Afghanistan's Taliban regime. Russia has charged Ukraine with doing the same for Chechen rebels.

In 2001, Kuchma acknowledged that $32 billion worth of Ukrainian military hardware had found its way illegally into international markets during the 1990s. Last year, Ukrainian police arrested four men from Greece, Pakistan and Iraq, on suspicion of attempted illegal weapons trade and hiring mercenaries in a deal worth more than $800 million for an unspecified force fighting in Iraq.

In March 2004, former Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk warned that several hundred SA-2 surface-to-air missiles brought to Ukraine for decommissioning were unaccounted for, due to "accounting problems" and "the absence of records."

(The Moscow Times 07.ii.05)

 
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