Peru: Peru Confirms Drugs-For-Guns Ring
Author: Sean Federico-O’Murchu
|Note: Sue Lackey and MSNBC’s Michael Moran contributed to this report. PERU CONFIRMS DRUGS-FOR-GUNS RINGMSNBC Broke Story Of Russian-South American Connection
NEW YORK, Aug. 25 – Peruvian officials this week confirmed details of a vast drugs-for-weapons ring involving Russian arms merchants, corrupt diplomats, Jordanian officials and Colombia’s largest rebel movement, a story that was first reported exclusively by MSNBC.com last April.
ON APRIL 9, MSNBC.com reported that Russian crime syndicates and military officers are supplying sophisticated weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, in return for huge shipments of cocaine.
The enterprise, described by a senior U.S. intelligence official as “literally an industry” involves giant Russian-built IL-76 cargo planes taking off from various airstrips in Russian and the Ukraine, refueling in Amman with the cooperation of corrupt diplomats and bribed local officials, and then using remote airstrips or parachute air-drops to provide tons of weapons to FARC, a violent insurgent army linked to drug cartels that is battling the Colombian government’s control of large areas of the country.
In exchange, the planes return laden with up to 40,000 kilograms of cocaine, most of which eventually makes its way into the former Soviet Union, Europe and the Persian Gulf.
Fujimori Offers Details
On Monday, Peru’s President Alberto Fujimori announced that his shadowy security adviser Vladimiro Montesinos had broken a smuggling ring supplying Jordanian arms to Colombian rebels. The ring, which officials said was headed by a retired Peruvian army lieutenant, used parachutes to drop at least 10,000 Russian-made automatic rifles obtained in the Middle East into rebel-held Colombian territory between March and July of 1999. Montesinos said that the Jordanian arms were shipped from the Canary Islands to Guyana and finally to Peru’s northern Amazon city of Iquitos, passing over southern Colombia.
The announcement drew an angry reply from Jordan, which denied any illegal activity. It was also denounced in Peru by opposition figures, who view it as a distraction from Fujimori’s current political troubles.
A senior Jordanian government official said in an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday that the arms were sold in 1998 through legal channels and that Jordan was willing to show Peruvian government officials all the documents pertaining to the deal.
The Ukrainian Connection
The Peruvian announcement did not touch on the Russian connection to the arms shipments, although U.S. intelligence officials, all of whom spoke to MSNBC.com on condition of anonymity, said the Russian involvement is substantial, the scope of which remains unknown to all but a few high-ranking figures in the American government.
“The source of the weapons is both organized crime and military. There is a tremendous gray area between the two in Russia and the Ukraine.”
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many KGB and other Soviet security agents appropriated bank accounts, companies and contacts used for covert operations, and turned them instead into conduits for their own organized crime activities, including arms and drug trafficking.
Refueling In Jordan
Officials close to the investigation cited intelligence intercepts that show the IL-76 cargo planes use Royal Jordanian Airlines cargo facilities in Amman, where airline officials are bribed to ignore false cargo manifests. While in Amman, the planes are cleared for transit under diplomatic cover originating from a Spanish-speaking embassy in Amman, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
“They’re using diplomatic authority to get that stuff in,” said a senior U.S. intelligence official close to the investigation. “If they’re not using a [diplomatic] pouch, they’re using diplomatic authority to clear the shipment. This is a big operation. There are a lot of people involved – it’s literally an industry.”
Once the planes have refueled in Amman, they fly to various landing strips throughout South America, where shipments are coordinated by a renegade Peruvian military officer, whose role was confirmed by Fujimori on Monday.
The FARC rebels, who control the distribution of the arms, pay the smugglers with cocaine, which is loaded onto the planes for the return journey through Amman. Hundreds of thousands of kilos of cocaine have been smuggled over the last two years. And at up to $50,000 per kilo, the payoff can be huge for the Russian crime groups, which smuggle most of the Colombian cocaine into the European heartland, usually via Spain.
U.S. Aid To Battle Colombia’s Cartels
The latest details about the arms-for-drugs smuggling ring put the spotlight again on Colombia’s losing battle against the well-armed cocaine cartels that operate with impunity in large sections of the country.
This week, overriding opposition from human rights groups, U.S. President Bill Clinton released $1.3 billion in aid to Colombia to fight its drug trade and he travels to Cartagena next Wednesday to meet President Andres Pastrana. According to U.S. officials, the aid package includes a few hundred U.S. military advisers who will go to Colombia to train special battalions in fighting the drug trade. But their presence is also likely to draw the attention of the guerrillas, whose weaponry, according to intelligence officials, include rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPGs) and Russian SA-model shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft weapons similar to the U.S. Stinger missiles.
“[The guerrillas] get the RPG to explode in the vicinity of the tail rotor, which gives the helicopter its horizontal stability,” said a U.S. Army official. “All that has to happen is for the tail rotor to become a bit unbalanced or for a hydraulic line to be cut, and that helicopter is coming down. It takes good aim and cases full of RPGs, but it’s been done many times.”
However, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger on Thursday denied that the aid allocation would lead to the “Vietnamization” of Colombia. American involvement in Vietnam began with the dispatch of military advisers and ended with the deaths of around 50,000 U.S. troops.
“I think you can get paralyzed by the foreign policy of analogy,” Berger said. “You should learn from what happened before. But the fact is this is nothing similar whatsoever. We’re talking about a few hundred American people going to train some Colombian army battalions.”
Berger said the training would allow the battalions to provide security for the national police to go into the areas where the drug problem is most pervasive and destroy crops and laboratories.
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake