Analysis 11 Apr 13

Albania Faces Questions Over Arms for Libya

Following a UN expert report, Tirana denies knowing that arms destined for the Gulf ended up in the hands of Libyan rebels.

Besar Likmeta
In this Tuesday Feb. 14, 2012 file photo, Libyan militias from towns throughout the country's west parade through Tripoli | Photp by : Abdel Magid Al Fergany

Albania has promised to investigate how around 800,000 12.7 mm rounds of ammunition, originating from Albanian surplus stocks, were shipped to Libya at the height of the civil war in September 2011 in defiance of an arms embargo.

Albanian authorities deny knowing that the weapons, officially sold to the United Arab Emirates through intermediaries, were destined for Libyan rebels in Benghazi, and have promised an internal investigation.  

However, evidence discovered by a UN panel of experts suggests that Tirana had some information about the final destination of the ammunition but did not follow it through.

A 94-page report prepared by a five-member panel and circulated by the UN on Tuesday details arms trafficking cases in the 2011 uprising against the Gaddafi regime, as well as efforts to track down the assets of individuals linked with his regime, which are on UN blacklist.

The panel said the illicit arms transfers, both to rebels and the regime, proven or still under investigation, involve more than 12 countries.

The transfer of ammunition to Libya involved the United Arab Emirates, an Armenian arms dealer, and the Albanian and Ukrainian official arms exports agencies.  

The shipment was carried out over three days from September 9, 2011 from Tirana’s Mother Teresa Airport, through an Armenian air carrier and flown directly to Benghazi, in spite of the imposition of the arms embargo.

DG Arms Corporation, an Armenian broker that was seeking to purchase surplus ammunition for the United Arab Emirates, contacted Albania’s Military Export Agency, MEICO, along with other companies in the region in July 2011.

MEICO preferred to sign a deal with a state entity rather than an independent broker, which led to the involvement of UKRINMASH, a subsidiary of the Ukrainian state-owned Ukrspecexport.

MEICO then sold the ammunition to UKRINMASH, which, through the Armenian agent, re-exported it fictively to the United Arab Emirates through the International Golden Group.

The international Golden Group represented the armed forces of the United Arab Emirates in the deal and signed the delivery verification certificate relating to the ammunition on their behalf.

Flight permits were issued in accordance with an official request by MEICO in order to proceed with exports of military material through Mother Teresa airport on September 10, 11 and 12 to Abu Dhabi International Airport.

But, after the permits were issued, the flight route was changed and the three flights delivered their cargo to Benghazi.

The fight arrived in Benghazi, after receiving clearance from NATO and the United Arab Emirates Air Force, although the UN Security Council had imposed a no-fly zone over Libya.

The three flights from Tirana are part of some 20 flights of weapons indentified by the UN panel that delivered weapons to the Libyan rebels during the conflict.

DG Arms Corporation secured the carrier, Ayk Avia, and the ammunition was transferred by an Ilyushin IL-76 TD aircraft. Ayk Avia, a company registered in Armenia, was previously involved in breaching sanctions against the regime in Somalia, according to the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.

The UN panel discovered that the 800,000 rounds were part of a larger deal between UKRINMASH and the government of the United Arab Emirates through the Armenian agent, including 2 million 12.7 x 108 mm rounds and 1,000 AK-47 assault rifles.

The Albanian authorities told the panel that they were unaware that the flight plan had been amended by the carrier officially flying to the United Arab Emirates, and the amendments were made outside Albanian airspace.

However, the panel decided that some departments of the Albanian authorities were likely to have possessed sufficient information about the amendments but failed to take action.

“Specifically, that information includes a landing permission request received by the aviation authorities on 8 September 2012 for an aircraft whose purpose of landing is recorded as charter in route Tirana-Zarzis-Benghazi,” the report notes.

According to the landing permission requested by Ayk Avia, the cargo to be loaded on to the aircraft was recorded as a dangerous cargo of UN 0300 1.4G, making it clear that the cargo was military material.

“In total, three flights loaded with the same cargo travelled the same flight path between Tirana and Benghazi over three days without being questioned by the Albanian authorities,” the report adds.

In response to the observations raised by the UN panel, the Albanian authorities responded by letter, noting that neither the domestic nor international air traffic authorities noticed or prevented the unilateral modification of the flight route by the carrier.

Tirana said the modification of the flight route was the result of “human error” and lack of proper attention by individual air traffic authorities, adding that there was “no plan or decision by the Government to breach the UN arms embargo for Libya”.

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