War profiteers unveiled


More than 130.000 people were killed during Yugoslav wars in the 1990ies. On the other side millions dollars of war profits have been earned with sending thousands tons of weapons and ammunition to the battlefields.

Last week the second book of the trilogy In the Name of the State was launched in the Slovene capital Ljubljana. It is called Resell and documents how the UN embargo against weapon sales during the Yugoslav wars was broken. The authors found leads to countries like Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, Romania and Russia as export countries, logistic headquarters in the Austrian capital Vienna, financial transactions via a Hungarian bank and transfers via off-shore haven Panama. Also the United Kingdom sent military equipment to then Yugoslav republics and provided loans for arms purchases, as did Germany, the authors found based upon studies of thousands of declassified documents and cooperation with journalists in several countries. The access was obtained through the Slovene freedom of information act.

It is a widely accepted theory that Balkan nations are responsible for the bloody disintegration of the Yugoslav federation. But evidence presented in the books indicates that some European countries may have been actively involved in the wars with supplying arms and ammunition to the warring parties. The books describe in detail and based upon port reports, cables, receipts and various other official documents the routes of the weapons and the money.

More than a dozen of ships loaded with contraband arms secretly arrived to the Slovene port of Koper in 1991 and 1992, where they were unloaded and cargo was quickly forwarded to battlefields in Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina. Military and civil intelligence services appear to have been involved in the clandestine operations according to signed and stamped documents, cables and orders obtained by the team. Also Italian, Albanian and Russian Mafia seem to be linked to some actions.

Along with his colleague Matej Šurc, Slovene journalist Blaz Zgaga spent more than three years investigating and analysing thousands of declassified official documents, that were obtained through the Slovene Freedom of Information Act. Journalists from six other countries cooperated in cross-border investigation.
The work already has lead to the award of the special investigative journalism diploma by the CEI SEEMO Award to the Zgaga-Šurc team.

In the trilogy of books the team meticulously describes the routes of smuggling and money transfers [Link to journalismfund article] as found in the released documents. During the recent Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Kiev Zgaga provided further insights into research method and findings, many of which lead to other countries and invite to further research in those countries.

The first strategically important shipment arrived to Slovenia from Bulgaria in June 1991, only a week before the first military clashes in former Yugoslavia. The Danish vessel according to the information obtained appears to have been loaded with five thousand assault rifles, millions of rounds of ammunition, and the most important, anti-aircraft and anti-armour missiles, worth 7,8 million German marks. The shipper according to the documents obtained was Bulgarian and the middlemen an Austrian company. Almost simultaneously a British company sent modern military radio stations with encryption capabilities to Slovenia in a deal worth five million pounds, the team of journalists found.

After this success a main arms dealer stepped forward in the summer of 1991. The Greek citizen appears to have used a company registered in Panama with offices at Vienna airport as one of the main channels for smuggling arms to Yugoslav fronts. Debit-credit notes of a bank account opened at a bank in Budapest reveal the company received more than eighty million dollars revenues from Slovene, Croatian and Bosnian customers, according to the authors of the book.

The authors obtained documents that further link the arms trade during the embargo to a Polish state owned company, including the code name of the contact person and the alleged amounts of the transfers that indicate a Polish port as starting point for ex-Soviet army ammunition supplies’ journey to the Adriatic Sea.

The tale of the documents continues to focus on shipments from a Ukrainian port. The declassified documents reveal that the first two shipments passed through the Slovene port of Koper. The ship made two journeys and sailed 96 containers with arms in October and November 1992. All were transported to Croatia by roads. Debit-credit notes confirmed that 60 million dollars were paid by Croatian customers for arms obtained through this channel, and that about 40 millions dollars has been transferred further to sellers of arms.

The last ship of eight was halted by the NATO fleet in Adriatic in 1994, then a trial in Italian city of Turin followed, but all were later acquitted at the court. The obtained documents show that the person, whom the Turin prosecutor assumed to be the leader of the group, sold hundreds of Russian anti-aircraft and anti-armour missiles worth 33,3 million dollars to Slovenia in 1991 and 1992. He offered even modern mobile anti-aircraft system SA-8 Gecko in January 1992, but this deal was cancelled. Several other Russian connections surfaced in the documents.

The first book in the trilogy was published by the Sanje publishing house in June 2011, the 2nd last week and the last will be published in the winter.

The book has been widely debated in Slovene media, where arms deals also surfaced on the political agenda involving the then prime minister as late as 2009.

A selection of the Slovene media picking up the story:
RTV SLO

Delo

Primorske

Dnevnik

Delo

RTV SLO

Slovenske Novice

Also EU-applicant neighbouring countries there was significant media coverage, including reports about new revelations in EU-candidate countries. Read more on the website of Journalismfund.eu.