Murphy's Law: The Mysterious Half Million Chinese AK-47s

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April 15,2008: Two years ago, Italian police had a wiretap on a black market arms dealer, when a call came in from a Libyan army officer, looking to buy 500,000 AK-47s, and 10 million rounds of ammo for them. The Italian gangsters were not used to moving that many weapons, but were game to act as middlemen for such a deal. The gangsters got in touch with Norinco, the Chinese arms manufacturer, and explained the situation. The Chinese were up for it, as long as they got the proper documents signed by Libyan government officials (attesting to the fact that the Libyan government was, indeed, the buyer of these weapons.) The Chinese would be discreet, but they wanted to cover their collective asses.

The paperwork was duly supplied, and six sample weapons were sent to Libya for tests. Everything was going well until the Italian police arrested the gunrunners two months ago, as part of another case. The Italians always planned to arrest the gangsters before the deal went through, but were willing to just continue collecting data, to try and find out what Libya wanted with so many weapons. That's still a mystery, because the gangsters never asked, and the Libyans never said anything about who would get the weapons. What was clear was that the Libyans wanted the deal to be done secretly, without any direct Libyan government connection. The gangsters also handled money laundering and the shipment of illegal cargoes (usually drugs), so all those details would be covered.

It was clear that the Libyans didn't want the guns for their armed forces (76,000 active duty and 40,000 reservists). These troops are equipped with much more modern arms. After all, the AK-47 is a 60 year old design, a weapon that even the Russians replaced before the Cold War ended.

Technically, there is also a Libyan "People's Militia" that is supposed to have about half a million men in it. But this organization, founded in the 1980s, never really got off the ground. The military and police wanted no part of handing out weapons to so many civilians, most of them with no weapons handling experience. So who were the AK-47s for? Apparently for foreign groups. For the last three decades, Libya has been shipping weapons for rebel groups throughout Africa, as part of its attempt to be both "revolutionary", and to acquire more influence. Libya usually refuses to admit publicly that is was shipping hundreds of thousands of rifles, pistols and RPGs to rebel groups. But it was an open secret. Those who received the weapons knew where they came from, and were not quiet about it. But half a million AK-47s?

One of the last items the Italian wiretaps picked up were arrangements for some skimming. The Chinese were selling the AK-47s (which they called the T-56) for about $80 each. But the Libyans wanted the final price to be $125 a gun, to cover the costs of payoffs, commissions and bribes.

 


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