|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-314930 Israel/Colombia (L)
INTRO: The Israeli Defense Ministry has opened an investigation into complaints that U-S-made surplus military helicopters have ended up in Colombia. The probe is examining whether the helicopters are now in the hands of Colombian criminal elements. Ross Dunn files this report.
TEXT: The investigation concerns the eventual buyers of five military helicopters that were removed from active service and sold to an Israeli company.
The helicopters were made in America and delivered to the Israeli Air Force as part of U-S defense aid to the Jewish State.
The Israeli company was to sell the helicopters through a Canadian agent to police authorities in Mexico and others to fire-fighting units in Spain.
The aircraft were transferred to Miami, Florida, and documents say, they were bound for Mexico. But instead, they came into the possession of a Colombian company.
U-S officials then asked Israel why the helicopters ended up in Colombia, raising concerns that they may have been bought by criminal elements.
Representatives of the Israeli company, which purchased the surplus aircraft, have stated to defense officials that the transactions do not violate any laws.
The company officials claim that the helicopters were to be converted to civilian craft, and - once that happened - their eventual owners were no longer a military matter.
But senior Israeli Defense officials have expressed concerns that the sale of U-S-manufactured helicopters to Colombian buyers, without American consent, could harm strategic relations between Jerusalem and Washington.
There have been other complaints in recent years about the possible inappropriate sale of U-S-made military equipment, given to Israel as part of defense aid.
The Israeli Defense Ministry's probe is being conducted in co-operation with counterparts in Colombia as well as U-S investigators. (SIGNED)
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