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Hrvatski 22 Feb 17

Croatian Agency Backs BIRN’s Arms Investigation

Croatia’s statistics bureau has confirmed data showing that 2016 was a record year for arms exports to Saudi Arabia, despite claims by a ministry to the contrary.

Lawrence Marzouk, Jelena Svircic BIRN Zagreb

Croatia’s state-run Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday said that the country exported 73 million euros’ worth of ammunition and 5 million euros of rocket or grenade launchers to Saudi Arabia in 2016.

The figures confirm those revealed in an investigation by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP.

After the publication of the probe on Tuesday morning, Croatia’s Ministry of Economy released a statement to the public broadcaster HRT in the afternoon claiming that exports to the Gulf Kingdom in 2016 were worth just 7.5 million euros.

A Caucasus-based Islamist fighter holds up two Croatian-made RBG-6s in Syria.
Photo: Twitter @BM21_Grad

The ministry had failed to provide this information to BIRN and OCCRP, despite being contacted a week before publication.

But in a written statement issued Wednesday, the Bureau of Statistics stood by its export data, saying it was based on customs reports. It said it was not able to comment on information from another public body.

The Ministry of Economy said it would not provide further information on how it came to the 7.5 million euro figure or discuss why it differed from official export data.

Reporters from BIRN and OCCRP revealed on Tuesday how 2016 was a record-breaking year for Croatian arms exports to Saudi Arabia, despite growing concerns the Gulf kingdom is routinely diverting equipment to Syrian rebels.

According to the Croatian data provided to the UN, out of the $88 million of sales to Saudi Arabia, $82 million was ammunition, hailing from Croatia’s stockpiles of 1980s and 1990s equipment, an unlikely purchase by Saudi Arabia’s expensively equipped security forces. Arms experts believe the likely final destination is the Gulf kingdom’s favoured factions in Syria.

Euro figures published by the Bureau on Wednesday differed slightly from those published by BIRN and OCCRP owing to the exchange rate they used.  

Videos and images emerging from Syria, and analysed by BIRN and OCCRP, also confirm the continued presence of Croatian-made ammunition and weapons in the country.

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 warzones.

Portuguese Socialist MEP Anna Gomes responded to the investigation by BIRN and OCCRP, claiming that Croatia is violating the EU’s common position on arms exports and the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty.

The European Parliament member made the comments on Twitter following publication of the probe on Tuesday into Croatia’s arms exports to the Middle East. 

Rob Perkins‏, a researcher for ATT Monitor, an organisation which analyses the impact of the Arms Trade Treaty, responding on Twitter to the findings, writing: “Croatia as a member of Arms Treaty must ensure its weapons aren't diverted.”

Croatia argues that it has met all its international obligations.