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Ukraine Accused Of Selling Weapons To Iran

By Valentinas Mite

Prague, 2 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian lawmaker Hryhoriy Omelchenko has alleged in a public letter to President Viktor Yushchenko that Ukraine illegally sold cruise missiles to Iran in violation of international nonproliferation treaties.

The allegations are not new. RFE/RL Ukraine analyst Roman Kupchinsky, who is currently in Kyiv, says the investigation began last year.

"The criminal investigation began last year before the [presidential] election. The investigation was begun by the security service of Ukraine, the SBU, and in October, last year, the first indictments were handed out against high-ranking officials of UkrSpetzExport, the Ukrainian state arms [sales] company," Kupchinsky says.

Kupchinsky says that more indictments are likely to come. Omelchenko is an ally of President Viktor Yushchenko.

However, other experts say it will be difficult to find evidence against those persons who may have been involved in the alleged arms exports to Iran in 2002.

Oleksandr Sushko is director of the Center for Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy, a Kyiv-based think tank. He says it is difficult to believe that Ukraine sold cruise missiles to Iran and managed to hide such an illegal deal for several years.

"I doubt it very much, very much indeed. It is not the kind of weapon that can be sold secretly without somebody knowing about it," Sushko says.

Previous Allegations

Sushko adds that former Ukrainian authorities were wrapped in so many different scandals and accusations of illegal weapons sales that it has damaged Ukraine's international reputation. The most notorious scandal occurred in the summer of 2000 when Ukraine was accused of selling a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq. However, the analyst says the involvement of the Ukrainian government officials in these alleged deals was never proved legally.

"You know, the most notorious scandal is [the alleged selling of] Kolchuga to Iraq. [Ukrainian] involvement was not proven at all. There is no evidence of Kolchuga's being in Iraq. Other scandals concern the sales of firearms to hot spots in Africa but, in these cases, it is very difficult to prove that the government had any role in them. It is unknown how much the government knew [about these sales]," Sushko says.

However, he says dealing in firearms left a lot of room for corruption, something that is to be investigated by the new Ukrainian administration. Sushko says special attention should be paid to the role of intermediaries in those alleged sales. He says a successful investigation depends not only on the goodwill of the new president but also on a reform of the country's legal system by the new administration. "Those people who participated in these shady deals are careful to keep their secrets to themselves; some of them, who were important witnesses, are already dead," says Sushko.

Leonid Palyakov, a military expert at the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies, also known as the Oleksandr Razumkov Center, agrees that the investigation of reported arms deals will be extremely difficult. He says that it is premature to say that Ukraine has sold weapons to Iran.

"An investigation should be carried out and only after the investigation is it possible to say happened and what did not. Without an investigation -- or trying to be too quick to judge -- we will find ourselves in the same situation we were during almost all of the years of independence, when the mass media kept publishing different stories, making accusations and reports which, up to now, have not even been confirmed once," Palyakov says.

However, Palyakov says the scandal gives him fresh hope. He says he hopes that the new administration will investigate the accusations of arms sale to Iran and will give a definite verdict, not just leave it uninvestigated and forgotten by both the press and society.

Meanwhile, RFE/RL analyst Kupchinsky, who interwieved Omelchenko, says that the facts in Omelchenko's letter seem somewhat credible at the moment.

"It's a very credible report, which names dates, names, the bank accounts, fictitious shell companies that were set up to extradite the transfer of money from Iran. Plus there's collaborating evidence to this whole affair," Kupchinsky says.

Neither Iranian officials or representatives of the Ukrainian state arms sales company, UkrSpetzExport, were available to comment.

(Hryhoriy Omelchenko's letter is published at http://www.ord.com.ua)

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org



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