Procurement: Gunrunners Get Got

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April 19,2008: The U.S. has been going after illegal arms brokers more energetically of late. Currently, negotiations are under way with Thailand, to extradite Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout from Thailand to the United States. Thailand arrested Bout last month, when he was lured to Thailand by a U.S. sting operation (offering Bout a large sale to Colombian rebel group FARC). Bout has moved millions of weapons (AK-47s, RPGs, mortars, machine-guns) to similar groups all over the world since the 1990s. Bout is now openly trying to use his connections with the Russian government to get out of Thailand (where he is still in jail.) The Russians have been applying some diplomatic pressure on Bout's behalf, and the fear is that Bout will find the right person to bribe in Thailand, and make his getaway.

More recently, police arrested an American, Peter Spitz, in Florida, for trying to sell ten Russian helicopters (apparently Mi-8s) to Zimbabwe. Spitz was caught in a sting, and he boasted of having 30 Russian made helicopters and warplanes in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan). The five Central Asian states that used to be part of the Soviet Union, inherited thousands of Russian aircraft and helicopters when the Soviet Union was dissolved (and the new states owned whatever Soviet military equipment was on their territory at that time.) These new nations had no need for most of these aircraft, and could not afford to operate them. So Spitz is basically a broker, and was trying to sell the ten helicopters for nearly $8 million. Zimbabwe is under an arms embargo, and Spitz was not licensed to do these kinds of deals anyway. But he could have hired a Russian air cargo company to move the helicopters to Zimbabwe.

Lastly, another Florida operation, AEY, Inc. got a contract to deliver $298 million worth of ammo to the Afghan security forces. The U.S. Department of Defense was subcontracting this to AEY, which turned out to be just another broker, who was buying up low quality (very old, and usually poorly maintained) ammo from Eastern European nations (Albania and Hungary were mentioned), and trying to pass it off as recently manufactured and up to spec. But what really got AEY, Inc. in trouble was trying to buy some ammunition from China, which U.S. firms are forbidden to do. In any event, AEY, Inc. lost the contracts.

The U.S. is going after these gunrunners more aggressively because, without easy access to weapons and ammo, a lot of the large scale mayhem around the world would not be possible. Without assault rifles and lots of ammo, these untrained thugs are a lot less bold, and dangerous.

 


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