Public procurement

Weapons for Africa

Marculesti International Airport’s agreements and litigation with arms dealers

Author: Mădălin Necșuțu, Ilie Gulca
28/09/2020 14959

● Marculesti International Airport sold weapons to offshores involved in arms trafficking in areas of military conflict

● S-8 KOM aircraft and helicopter missiles were to reach Niger through the Ukrainian state-owned company Ukrinmash

● The Ukrainians from S-Profit Ltd have financial claims, amounting to over 4 million lei, to the Moldovan authorities for non-compliance with the contracts signed for S-8 missiles.

● Illegal kept weapons and ammunition which are not in the National Army patrimony, were found on the territory of Marculesti International Airport

The Embassy of the Ukraine in Chisinau requests, on March 27, 2018, the right to use the Moldovan airspace and the landing of the An-12 aircraft of the Ukraine Air Alliance company at Marculesti Airport. The Antonov plane had to load 800 Soviet-made S-8 KOM aircraft rockets from Marculesti Airport.

S-8 KOM unguided aircraft rockets are used to equip fighter jets, Suhoi (Su) bombers and Mikoyan (Mi) fighter helicopters. The ammunition was distributed in 200 crates and weighed a total of 15,000 kilograms.

Under the document obtained by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CIJM), the Ukraine Air Alliance plane planned, on April 18, 2018, to take off, empty, from Chernivtsi Airport (Ukraine), then to land at Marculesti Airport (Moldova), where to load the 800 missiles bound for Niger, West Africa.

The Ukrainian state-owned company Ukrinmash is listed as the seller of the missiles stored at Marculesti Airport, and the buyer is the Nigerian Air Force. The deal was brokered by Westan Group Associates LTD, an offshore in the Caribbean zone, island Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Ukrinmash is authorized by the Government of Ukraine to internationally import and export weapons and goods from the national security category.

Blockade in Marculesti

However, Antonov with the code UR-CGV & UR-CAH did not operate the flight on April 18, 2018, requested in the note of the Ukrainian Embassy. The landing in Marculesti was banned.

Instead, the history of flights operated by Antonov UR-CGV & UR-CAH, provided by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), shows that it landed no less than 31 times within nine weeks at the International Airport Chisinau between April 9, 2018 and June 15, 2018.

The Civil Aviation Authority (AAC) informed the CIJM that it did not know exactly what cargo this aircraft had and that it would have requested cargo charter flights. "AAC checked the airline's documents related to flight safety and insurance. Regarding the nature of the transport, we note that, in [its] request, the company generally mentioned cargo, which implies ordinary goods ", AAC stated.

In turn, the Ukrainian Embassy in Chisinau tacitly recognized the arms shipment required in Moldova. The diplomatic mission informed us that Ukraine is the only country in the former Soviet Union that is a signatory to the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies.

"The state arms-export-control   system works effectively in Ukraine. Its competence also includes the services provided by airlines to foreign sponsors for the transport of military products to third countries ", reads a reply of the Ukrainian Embassy for the CIJM.

The former manager of Marculesti Airport Vladimir Maiduc said that the batch of S-8 KOM missiles, which was to be picked up from the Airport, was sold following a tender organized two years earlier.

"A part of the missiles was taken and the other was not, because [the Ukrainian company] had nowhere to sell them. And when they found a buyer, I was already a manager and I did not allow them to take the weapons ", he said for CIJM.

"I said I don't sell weapons. A scandal broke out at the [Defense] Ministry. I told them to come and sell them if they wanted to. "

The transportation of these weapons, in the opinion of the former Minister of Defense Eugen Sturza, was stopped by the interdepartmental commission on export control, re-export, import and transit of strategic goods.

"When the plane was to land [in April 2018], the consent of the Ministry of Defense and the Intelligence and Security Service was requested. Then, the decision was taken to ban the delivery of missiles. An investigation was started into the factors that decided to sell the missiles", Sturza said.

Moldova’s Ministry of Defense informed the CIJM that the National Army does not own S-8 KOM missiles. The national defense officials pointed out that they do not have information on the organization of tenders for the sale of such missiles in the last five years and even earlier, including by Marculesti Airport.

The Public Property Agency also informed CIJM reporters that the existence of a sale-purchase transaction of S-8 KOM missiles between Marculesti International Airport and the Ukrainian state-owned company, Ukrinmash, was “not verified”.

Marculesti International Airport and relations with traffickers

The state enterprise Marculesti International Airport had other arms deals in unclear conditions. Between November 18, 2014 and January 15, 2015, those responsible for protecting the unused assets of the National Army and members of the Board of Directors of Marculesti Airport sold 53 B8M1 unmanned rockets launchers to the same company Ukrinmash. The value of the deal amounted to 4,251,840 lei.

The former administration of the company is accused of ignoring the provisions of the Regulation on the marketing of military equipment, armament and other technical means. The case is currently being investigated by the Prosecutor's Office for Combating Organized Crime and Special Cases (PCCOCS).

Prosecutors are also investigating the sale of the three batches of S-125 M1 missile. The batch was sold in February 2016, for $ 660,000, by S-Profit Ltd, a UK-registered offshore company involved in arms trafficking in conflict zones in Africa. This case is also being investigated by PCCOCS prosecutors. Former decision makers at Marculesti Airport are accused of abuse of office.

Recently, the current manager of Marculesti Airport Nicolae Clichici told us that S-Profit has financial claims against the Moldovan company for non-compliance with contractual provisions. "The summons came from the S-Profit company. I sent it to the Ministry of Economy ... There are [financial] claims, which exceed the amount that the Airport received”, said Clichici. He did not give details so as not to be charged of disclosing the state secret.

After repeated requests related to the S-Profit claims, the Public Property Agency informed us that Marculesti Airport organized an open outcry tender on July 28, 2015 for the sale of undirected S-8 aviation missiles. Following this, a batch of 1,390 units was sold by the same British offshore S-Profit Ltd.

The agency said that the Marculesti International Airport had property rights over the tendered objects based on the Order of the Defense Ministry no. 289 of June 3, 2015.

"Thus, between the Marculesti International Airport, seller, and S-Profit Ltd., buyer, a sale-purchase contract was concluded on July 28, 2015. Following the signing of the mentioned contract, S-Profit Ltd transferred $216,150 to the bank accounts of Marculesti International Airport”, reads the reply of the Agency.

Under the Government Decision no. 606/2002, in order to deliver the armament, it is mandatory to have an export authorization of the strategic goods. The authorization in question is issued by the Interdepartmental Commission for Control over Export, Re-Export, Import and Transit of Strategic Goods within the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure.

Therefore, Marculesti International Airport has not delivered the batch of missiles amid the lack of export authorization. This fact generated, according to the contractual provisions, delay penalties amounting to $ 245,330, according to the S-Profit calculations performed on November 5, 2018.

The value of S-Profit's financial claims exceeds that of missiles.

The Public Property Agency sent information about the alleged violations to the National Anticorruption Center. Therefore, the S-8 missiles do not belong to the state-owned company Ukrinmash, but to the British offshore S-Profit Ltd.

Where does Marculesti International Airport get weapons from?

The administrator of the Marculesti International Airport, Nicolae Clichici (left) and the Prime Minister Ion Chicu (right)

The Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure has unreasonably refused to tell us at least the exact number of arms exports in the last four years. On the other hand, the Ministry of Defense informed us that, in 2015–2020, it handed over to the management of Marculesti International Airport, for the consolidation of the material base, the following types of weapons and military equipment: a) Пушка ГШ-30 and b) three anti-aircraft missiles S-125 M1.

In the period 2008–2016, under the Parliament Decision no. 283 of 1999, Marculesti Airport organized a series of tenders to sell assets which the Ministry of Defense no longer needed. The decision in question contains a secret annex of weapons from the endowment of the Ministry of Defense. Some of these goods were distributed for sale, and the other part was the technical-material base of Marculesti International Airport.

"For example, weapons were removed from Mi-8 helicopters and aircrafts were registered in the civil registry. The aircraft formed the statutory capital of Marculesti International Airport. These assets cannot be sold ", explained the manager of the airport Nicolae Clichici. He said that for now, there aren’t weapons in the warehouses of the Marculesti International Airport.

"Under some agreement, all the weapons were kept at the Military Base in Floresti of the Ministry of Defense. There are storage conditions ", Clichici underlined.

However, cases have been reported in recent years about weapons and ammunition from elsewhere which were found in the warehouses of Marculesti International Airport - Free Economic Zone. On June 16, 2018, the former manager of the airport, Vladimir Maiduc informed the Floresti Police Inspectorate about the detection of ammunition and weapons in the warehouse no. 10.

Weapons detected in warehouse no. 10 of Mărculești International Airport

The criminal investigation body within the Balti Police Inspectorate found that the detected objects are, in fact, ammunition and military firearms produced in the USSR. He did not offer details about their type.

An informative note signed by the former manager Maiduc reads that in the location of the Free Economic Zone, ICS AIM Helicopter Plant SRL, there are stored "illegally” unregistered weapons and ammunition: automatic machine gun and ammunition for military aircraft (one unit); Пушка ГС-23 (3 units); missiles ИЗВ-388; ИЗВ-68; ИЗВ-62 for aircraft (7 units); controlled missile control block; parts and components of the Kalashnikov automaton; ammunition and other military objects.

Contacted by CIJM, the manager of ICS AIM Helicopter Plant SRL, Alexei Cibotaru said that the Marculesti airport would own the weapons found in the warehouse no. 10.

"Under the lease agreement, I have several leased warehouses. Some of them have not yet been handed over to me, including deposit no. 10. The goods of the state enterprise Marculesti International Airport are stored there”, said the manager of AIM Helicopter Plant SRL.

"Obviously, I can't know what exactly, what goods are stored or were stored. When we talk about something legal or illegal, I think the court can rule on it. "

The Ministry of Defense said that the weapons Pushka GS-23 and missiles ISV-388; ИЗВ-68; ИЗВ-62 are not in the records of the National Army, as they are not registered in the records of weapons and ammunition as lost or stolen.

Weapons detected in warehouse no. 10 of Mărculești International Airport

Floresti Police started, on June 16, 2018, the criminal investigation “on the fact that unidentified persons keep firearms or ammunition without the appropriate authorization”. Subsequently, the criminal case was sent to the Balti Police Inspectorate.

The law enforcement officers have not identified yet the person who stored the weapons and ammunition in warehouse no. 10 from Marculesti Airport. As a result, the criminal investigation was suspended on August, 23, 2019.

Vladimir Maiduc said that he was not questioned by the criminal investigation bodies. On the other hand, the Balti Police Inspectorate informed us that "all possible persons were questioned at that time".

The investigation was carried out within the Media Campaign "Raising awareness about corruption in public procurement", conducted by the Center for Investigative Journalism with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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