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News 27 Mar 17

Croatia Approved €101 Million of Saudi Arms Exports

A new EU report reveals the value in 2015 of Zagreb’s controversial arms trade with Saudi Arabia, which is routinely diverting weapons and ammunition from the Balkans to Syrian rebels.

Lawrence Marzouk
BIRN
Zagreb, London
A Croatian-made RAK-12 in Syria.

Croatia’s Economy Ministry approved the export of 101 million euros’ worth of arms and ammunition to Saudi Arabia in 2015, according to an EU report which has yet to be formally published.

This included 87 million euros’ worth of ammunition, five million euros of weapons, six million euros of protective military clothing and three million euros of weapons parts.

The information is revealed in the EU’s 18th annual report on arms exports, which was presented to EU foreign ministers earlier this month.

The new data is significant for Croatia as it is the first time that the destinations of arms exports approved by the ministry in 2015 have been made public.

Zagreb’s own report for that year, like those for 2014 and 2013, does not include this information, following a decision to reduce transparency based on a contested interpretation of a new personal data protection law.

The EU report also adds weight to an investigation published by BIRN last month, which used UN and Croatian state data to reveal that 78 million euros of munitions were exported to Saudi Arabia in 2016, a record-breaking year for such exports.

Some 73 million euros of that was made up of Yugoslav and wartime-era ammunition from the country’s large stockpiles, raising fears that Saudi Arabia, which has one of the most expensively assembled armies in the world, was likely to divert the equipment to Syrian rebels.

Both the EU Common Position and the Arms Trade Treaty, which Croatia has signed up to, requires countries to take action to avoid weapons being diverted, especially to war zones.

Croatia’s Economy Ministry argues that it meets its international obligations and that the 2016 exports were carried out based on licences it had approved the preceding year, but declined to release any further information.

After the publication of the probe, the ministry issued a further statement to the public broadcaster HRT claiming that it estimated the value of exports to Saudi Arabia in 2016 to be just 7.5 million euros.

While the new EU report does not provide Croatian export figures for 2016, it does confirm that Saudi Arabia had sufficient export licences leftover from 2015 to reach the 78 million euros of sales reported by BIRN.

Of the 101 million euros of export licences granted to Saudi Arabia in 2015, just four million euros were used, leaving 97 million euros of potential exports for 2016.

The Economy Ministry said it would not provide any further information on the EU data as it was in the process of compiling its own report for 2016.

BIRN revealed earlier this week that Montenegro’s special prosecution for organised crime is investigating the country’s main arms exporter over suspicions that arms it sold arms to Saudi Arabia ended up elsewhere.

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