Monday, December 21, 2009

North Korea weapons aircraft 'was heading to Iran'


By Anne Barrowclough

An aircraft seized at Bangkok airport laden with weapons from North Korea was en route to Iran, according to US media. Mystery has surrounded the destination of the Ilyushin-76, which was found to be carrying 35 tons of missiles, including surface to air missiles and rocket launchers, after it made a refuelling stop at Bangkok on December 11.

Thai officials said that it was due to fly next to Sri Lanka although Sri Lankan officials said that they had no knowledge of the flight. The aircraft's five crew members, from Kazakhstan and Belarus, have maintained that they believed they were carrying oil drilling equipment.

According to the Wall St Journal newspaper, a flight plan for the aircraft showed that after Bangkok it was due to make refuelling stops in Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and Ukraine before going on to Tehran where it would unload its cargo.

The details of the flight plan are included in a joint draft report by analysts at TransArms, in Chicago, and the International Peace Information Service (IPIS) in Belgium, organisations that monitor international arms transfers, the Wall Street journal reports. The report has not been independently confirmed. From Iran the weapons could have been passed on to militants in Lebanon or Gaza.

The flight documents describe the aircraft's cargo as "oil industry spare parts", suggesting the crew had no idea of the true nature of what they were carrying. The detailed list includes descriptions such as "Geothermal rigs spare parts ... model MTEC6".

It remains unclear who is behind the shipment. The aircraft is registered in Georgia to a company called Air West Ltd, which had bought it from a company linked to the Serbian arms trafficker Tomislav Damnjanovic. In turn Air West leased the aircraft to a New Zealand-based company, SP Trading Ltd.

SP Trading is registered to GT Group Ltd, a Vanuatu-based company with offices in Auckland, New Zealand. In an e-mail to The Times, the marketing manager Ian Taylor said: "SP Trading Limited was incorporated by our New Zealand Agent the 22nd day of July, 2009 at the request of one of our professional clients based in the United Kingdom.

"GT Group Limited confirms that it has no connection to the activities of SP Trading Limited and strongly emphasises that it acted as an Incorporator and Registered Agent only."

According to the Wall Street Journal, another contract detailed in the report by TransArms and IPIS, SP Trading leased the plane to another company, based in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong company is allegedly owned by a second Hong Kong company, which is owned in turn by a third company, based in the British Virgin Islands, according to company registration documents. These companies are understood to have organised the cargo.

The weapons seizure is the largest since tighter UN sanctions were passed in June to curtail North Korea’s lucrative arms trade. It is thought that North Korea earns millions of dollars a year from arms trading and security experts hope that the Thailand case will shed light on how Pyongyang moves weapons around the world.

Earlier this year, authorities in Dubai seized a shipment of military hardware from North Korea on board a ship heading for Iran. That cargo, too, was labelled "oil boring machines" but actually contained detonators and ammunition.

Times Newspapers

1 comments:

I think, that article is sloppy in its research. Air West is based in Sudan, not in Georgia. The aircraft reportedly carried huge amounts of small arms and RPGs...not the typical stuff Iran is interested in, their small arms industry is both larger and more sophisticated than North Koreas. All indications are on Sudan being the actual recipient of this deal.

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