Zim running guns for Africa

Waldimar Pelser, City Press

ZIMBABWE has been part of an international gun-running network that supplied Liberian warlord Charles Taylor and other rogue goverments with arms for war.

Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe may still be a prime gateway for illegal weapons sales in Africa and beyond, a source close to a United Nations (UN) investigation into Zimbabwe’s arms deals said this week.Bank statements obtained by City Press show that Zimbabwe’s state arms firm, Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI), dealt directly with a Ukrainian mafia kingpin who was a prime weapons pusher to Taylor. Taylor is currently facing a war crimes trial in The Hague.

The same documents show kickbacks paid by weapons dealers to people in government and other individuals in Zanu-PF, and help to explain how high-ranking people have been able to sustain themselves despite international sanctions and a Western weapons ban on the troubled neighbouring state.

As late as last week, United Nations investigators were in Harare fleshing out the role of the ZDI in laundering huge armaments shipments that fuelled civil war in Liberia and elsewhere, the source said.This has raised fears that the Chinese weapons shipments to Zimbabwe in April might have ended up in the hands of other African rebel groups, or governments who are barred by embargoes from legally buying arms.

Documents in possession of City Press show how senior Zanu-PF officials earned kickbacks worth millions of rands from an arms deal in 1999 with Leonid Minin, an Israeli national born in Ukraine who supplied Taylor with missiles, ammunition and assault rifles at the height of Liberia’s civil war.

Unlike Zimbabwe, Liberia is subject to UN arms embargoes.

Arms brokers like Minin acted as middlemen, while companies like ZDI provided false end-user certificates for shipments to hide their final destination.

China is one of many weapons- producing countries which has resisted the secure marking of weapons. This means controllers cannot easily trace where weapons end up – including the three million rounds of AK-47 bullets on board the An Yue Jiang, chased from Durban harbour by dock workers on April 18.

“The Chinese arms might have gone to Eritrea or Somalia. You look at countries with embargoes. They would need another country to acquire weapons for them,” said Joseph Dube from the International Action Network on Small Arms (Iansa). “Zim would acquire them and nobody would know. The ZDI played a big role in the supply even when they were not the end user.”

Several experts said this week they believed part of the Chinese shipment had arrived in Zimbabwe by air from the Angolan capital, Luanda, on an undeclared flight which traffic controllers failed to pick up.

Human rights groups feared these weapons would be used against opposition supporters in the run-up to Friday’s presidential election, but most injuries have been inflicted using “crude” weapons such as iron bars and machetes, or having burning plastic drip all over the body, according to doctors at a Harare clinic.

“Victims are being forced to walk over burning grass,” said a doctor who treats patients from all over Zimbabwe who fear public hospitals. She asked not to be named as the clinic’s work might be stopped.

“The Chinese weapons have not been used in political violence in Zimbabwe,” said Noel Stott, senior arms control researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria.

Dube said the China arms were either “being stashed” or had been sent elsewhere.

Zimbabwe’s role as a conduit for weapons shipments to third countries dates back to at least 1999, but ZDI supplied the Sri Lankan military with weapons as early as 1997.

In one of the boldest arms heists in military history, 32 400 mortars which ZDI was providing to Sri Lanka were seized on the high seas on 11 July 1997 by the Tamil Tigers when they hijacked a ship sailing under the Liberian flag.

The heist happened after a briefcase belonging to Tshinga (TJ) Dube, chief of the ZDI, was stolen at a Rome airport three months earlier, containing details of the Sri Lanka shipment.

Dube told Australia’s SBS radio ZDI’s supplier for the arms was “an Israeli national”. Two years later Dube would be in the middle of the Taylor arms deal – receiving kickbacks from Israeli national Minin.

According to an Amnesty International report in 2006, Minin received payment of $460,000 from the Liberian government in March 1999 for two shipments of weapons, to Taylor in Monrovia and the Liberia-backed RUF in Sierra Leone.

The money was deposited into the Hungarian bank account of Engineering & Technical Company Ltd, which AI claims is a shell company used by Minin to launder arms and weapons payments.

The explosive Zimbabwe link lies in the bank account used by Liberia to pay for rebel arms. Bank statements show four payments between December 1998 and May 1999 from the same account to two key Zimbabweans – including TJ Dube.

The other was Zodwa Dabengwa, ex-wife of Dumiso Dabengwa, a former Zimbabwean military commander. Dabengwa belonged to Zanu-PF’s decision-making body in 1998. He broke away from Zanu-PF to join former finance minister Simba Makoni ahead of the March 29 presidential poll, and later supported MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Days before the payments to Dube, which totalled more than R2,3 million, ZDI itself made payments of more than $3 million (some R24 million) to Minin for weapons.

A source close to the UN said there was no indication the weapons actually reached Zimbabwe, and were instead channelled to Liberia. The AI report shows Minin delivered two weapons shipments to Liberia in March and July 1999 – just when the ZDI deals were being finalised.

Alex Yearsly, head of special projects at rights group Global Witness, said the link between Minin and the ZDI was “critical”.

“ZDI has been used by countless regimes from Sri Lanka to Liberia to get hold of weapons.” He described the international community’s resistance to tightening controls against gun-running through countries like Zimbabwe – which can legally buy on the world market – as a “scandal”.

“It is not only China and Russia, but the UK and France. All have resisted attempts to regulate the trade.” Calls intensified this week for an international arms embargo on Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean ambassador to South Africa Simon Moyo, when asked to comment, said: “I know nothing about that”. Attempts to reach the Chinese embassy yesterday were also unsuccessful.  – http://www.news24.com/City_Press/News/0,,186-187_2348810,00.html


Zimbabwe’s deal with gun runner

IN 1998 and 1999, six transactions for weaponry and kickbacks to Zimbabwean officials passed through the Hungarian bank account of a company linked to Leonid Minin, one of the most notorious gun suppliers to Africa.

Bank statements in possession of City Press, and a 2006 report by Amnesty International, show that these transactions coincided exactly with Minin’s alleged shipment of weapons to Liberia:

ï‚·  December 15 1998: Minin pays $5 000 to Zodwa Dabengwa from a Hungarian bank account.

ï‚·  March 8, 10 1999: John Enrique, Commissioner of Liberia’s National Bureau of Immigration for Naturalisation, pays US$463,470 into the same account.

ï‚·  March 11 1999: A giant Antonov 124 leaves Ukraine with 68 tons of military equipment, including 3 000 AKM assault rifles and 1 million rounds of ammunition, destined for Burkina Faso and then Liberia.

ï‚·  April 22 1999: ZDI pays US$1,383,150 into Minin’s account for weapons.

ï‚·  May 31 1999: ZDI deposits another $2,103,150.

ï‚·  June 1 1999: Minin pays TJ Dube $40 000 in suspected kickbacks for the weapons deal

ï‚·  June 16 1999: Another $80 000 is paid to Dube

ï‚·  June 22 1999: A last installment of $175,815 is paid to Dube.

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