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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SUN, 03 MAY 1998 16:31:49 GMT

    War Diplomacy - Controversial Armament Trade

    Unsettled Accounts

    AIM Ljubljana, 29 April, 1998

    In Slovenia, the end of scandals related to disintegration of SFRY is not yet in sight; the media are lately discovering to the local public details about armament trade in which the highest local officials were involved during the period of winning independence.

    Nicholas Oman, Slovenian citizen and former honorary consul of Liberia in Slovenia took care of the first scandal. Nowadays, Oman's residence in the castle of Grimsce in Bled is deserted, his address is unknown from the moment when his conflict with the Slovenian police intensified, more than a year ago... His conflict with his home country goes back to the period 1991 - 1992 when Oman was purchasing arms and related equipment for relevant Slovenian ministries owing to his former business relations and their channels abroad. Oman, whose name is being mentioned in relation to different criminal offences, did not miss any occasion during the past years to warn in public the state about the accounts which were not settled, that the debt is effective and that he would reveal in public all the details about the arms trade if the state cashier's office would not settle its obligations. He made use of every occasion to emphasise that his testimony would cost dearly the leaders of many political parties, as well as the top state administrators. The bureaucracy answered with a blow, by first raising and later withdrawing charges against Oman. Even Interpol reacted by sending out an international warrent for his arrest.

    Time went by, the fuss died down, it seemed that Oman was forgotten. And then a shock happened, his threats started soming true, with all the accompanying international publicity. First, the press broke news about Aron J. George, Liberian ambassador in Paris, who demanded without beating about the bush that Liberia claims that Slovenia pay the old debts, urgently! Liberia declares that Slovenia has never paid for the delivery of 850,000 gas masks which were purchased in 1991 with the help of foreign partners, worth nine million US $, and transported the same year to the port of Kopar. Ambassador Aron J. George informed the Slovenian party that Liberia would reveal documents which highly compromise numerous Slovenian leaders involved in smuggling of arms, if Ljubljana would not pay the claimed debts.

    Officials from Ljubljana ignored the mentioned ultimatum. But, it soon showed that this time the tactics of passiong over facts in silence would not bring the wanted results. Unexpectedly, Milan Solomun, former member of Slovenian crime service, appeared with an announcement in public. He passed to the media a document signed in Paris on May 7 this year. Acting as an authorised representative of the Slovenian Government, he personally signed the paper together with the Liberian ambassador who represented Liberia. In short, it was agreed that the Liberian Government would not make use of harmful documents from the period of the Slovenian struggle for independence, if Slovenia would pay the debt to the Liberian company owned by Nicholas Oman. It was also agreed to renew by the end of March 1998 the diplomatic relations between Slovenia and Liberia broken by depriving Oman of his agreements in Slovenia and declaring him afterwards persona non grata (in 1996).

    The Government of Drnovsek declared this act of Solomun ordinary blackmail, claiming that he has never been a state mediator in the described dispute; at the same time some newspapers threw light on the person and deeds of M.S. with a discrete help of police records about his suspicious business actions... But Solomun was ready for to fight, the following day he sent to the newspapers a legally valid statement of Karl Grois dated June 1996. The testimony of Grois is related to talks at the headquarters of the Slovenian Territory Defence in 1991, when purchasing antiaircraft and antitank rockets wwas agreed along with a large quantity of shielding masks. Solomun-Grois presentation in media is supported by a new declaration from Paris, since the Liberian ambassador was astonished to learn that Slovenian Government ignored the offer for discrete solution of the dispute. His excellency threatened that he would send the complete documentation to New York Times and other newspapers, describing how Slovenia, which has in the meantime even become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, had made profit by usurping Liberian state property.

    At the same time, journal Mladina from Ljubljana published a long interview with Hasan Cengic, former high official of the Bosnian government, responsible for purchasing arms from abroad. In his story Cengic explained precisely why and how weapons were transferred through Maribor airport where Janez Jansa, at the time minister of defence, discovered spectacularly 12 containers full of arms for the Bosnian army in 1993 during the war in Bosnia. Media have soon discovered the background of this discovery which was a tool used in the political struggle between two rival clans (that of Jansa and Kucan), this time for priority in the profitable business of smuggling weapons to hostile former brethren... And since the whole operation was performed with the knowledge of the highest political officers, the Maribor affair keeps raising the question of the price paid for Slovenian violation of the UN 1991 Resolution No. 713 which forbids import of arms into the territory of former Yugoslav republics.

    There is no clear answer to this question in Slovenia. A special parliamentary commission established in 1993 on the occasion of the weapons discovered at the Maribor airport, never finished its work, ostensibly protecting national interests. Similar explanation was made by Maribor prosecutor, who rejected accusations against responsible persons from the Slovenian secret service involved in smuggling of arms, in October 1994 (after testimony of Hasan Cengic). Even the so-called comprehensive report about arms trade on the Slovenian territory written on demand of Janez Drnovsek by relevant state authorities did not reveal anything new.

    Trading with Death

    Meanwhile numerous documents appeared with the direct participants in the arms business whose testimonies proved that the questions about Slovenian violations of the international embargo were justified. Moreover, it comes out from the available Government reports that during the past few years, one of the biggest and most important middleman between the Slovenian ministry of defence and salesmen in the East was indeed Nicholas Alexander Oman, Slovenian citizen with Australian passport.

    From time to time, at the beginning of nineties while protected by diplomatic immunity, Oman organised parties for business friends in Bled. The second person of Russian LDS Aleksei Vedenkin declared during the first visit of Vladimir Zhirinovski, that Nicholas Oman had deposited nine million dollars for purchasing 850,000 gas masks (which were supposedly needed in Slovenia for the case of biological- chemical war). According to the sources of Mladina, the reason for the visit of Zhirinovski was mostly racketeering, i.e. related to the nine million dollars that Jansa's ministry of defence owed him. The masks were actually the remainder of tied up trade. The joke is worthy of "Catch 22", Oman was obliged to buy almost a million of gas masks from his Russian friends if he wanted to buy weapons, which is certainly too much for Slovenia with less than two million inhabitants. The business went wrong when someone from the ministry of defence refused to pay the debt and take over the unnecessary goods; the masks became reason for a dispute between the cheated dealers and Jansa's department.

    The question arises about the course of arms trade through Slovenia. It is known up to now that 90 per cent of weapons purchased with mediation of Slovenia arrived to the port of Kopar. Two thirds of the goods were usually intended for Croatia and one third for Slovenia. The Croatian part was transferred immediately in convoys across the border while the Slovenian part was (mostly) stored in military buildings in Kocevska Reka, which was an isolated region in former SFRY, and an untouchable meeting place of Jansa's "praetorian guard", special brigade Moris, after the independence. About 120 containers of weapons (twice as much was transferred to Croatia, to compare with only twelve containers discovered by Jansa at the Maribor airport) was transported to Kocevska Reka by January 1992.

    Nicholas Alexander Oman was one of the biggest dealers in transactions with both Slovenian and Croatian customers: the weapons he offered to his clients was mostly of Eastern origin. The war material was mostly meant for reselling, thus not a single Kalasnyikov, antiaircraft missile or mortar remained in Slovenia. This is not valid for a single (!) container of Heckler and Koch automatic guns which arrived to Kopar from Singapore.

    Too High Commissions

    Everything would have continued undisturbed far from the eyes of the public if the circumstances had not become complicated. There was many reasons. For example, during the war against Bosnian Moslems, Croatia did not permit transit of weapons to Bosnia and the number of customers ready to pay high prices for poor-quality weapons decreased. Mladina published a document showing that in one of the latest transactions, Slovenian ministry of defence ordered from Scorpion International Services S.A. through Orbal Marketing Services of Nicholas Oman a supply of Kalasnyikov guns, Makarov pistols and mortars with ammunition (in 46 containers) worth nine million dollars approximately... Everything should have been transported through the port of Kopar.

    The other part of the trade (besides the known Maribor connection) went through the Ljubljana Brnik airport. This agreement was arranged with Ludvik Zvonar, at the time a counsellor of the Government at the ministry of defence. Weapons were stored in the military part of the airport, and guarded by civilian policemen. These shipments were transported to Croatia through Jelsane border crossing; on the Croatian side they were taken over by Ragip Merdevic, former analyst of the Croatian secret security service. One of the customers who bought these weapons in March 1992, i.e. before the war in Bosnia which officially started on 5 April, was Hasan Cengic. According to the agreement with Fanc Kosi, at the time counsellor at the Slovenian ministry of internal affairs, and previously mentioned Ludvik Zvonar, Cengic bought a package of arms worth about 30 million dollars in Kocevska Reka and Brnik. According to the present knowledge, this transaction belongs to the so-called informal or third line of commerce in Slovenia, led by the mentioned and some other politicians holding important positions in the state; financial results of these transactions were not presented in the state budget since the money had gone to (supposedly three) foreign accounts. By a simple calculation based on price differences, it may be concluded that the commission which ended on private accounts was high. Dealers' profit was about 15 million dollars in this single transaction, if it were true that the Bosnian Government bought Kalasnyikov guns at the price of 450 German marks, while Oman's partners sold them for 159 dollars as Hasan Cengic declared. The fact that weapons trade is not free of risk as expected, is no consolation. For example, in 1992, the Slovenian ministry of defence paid their dealer Nicholas Oman for a part of the purchased weapons worth 300,000 German marks in forged 50-gram Swiss Bank coins.

    Finally everything came up on the surface - owing to politics. Simply said, some of Jansa's very close associates became greedy. At least those who controlled the business. They established a too high commission, and the part of customers demanded help from Milan Kucan, president of the State. This was confirmed by Hasan Cengic who testified that Alija Izetbegovic turned directly to Kucan. Later, Kucan received Cengic, and Igor Bavcar, minister of the Slovenian Police at the time, was present at the talks. Bavcar has connected (in order to organise humanitarian help for the Bosnian army) Cengic with Dusan Pibr and Miho Brejc, head of the Slovenian intelligence service (called VIS at the time). As a reward for the favour, and as a guarantee, the Bosnian Government left a Bel produced helicopter in Slovenia.

    Since business concerned with illegal purchasing of weapons is always unsafe, Cengic did not want to leave anything undefined, and therefore tried to continue co-operation with the Slovenian ministry of defence as well. He talked to Jansa several times, but the problem seemed impossible to solve. Janez Jansa demanded three million German marks for unpaid debts without wishing to show specification or any documents. It was clear to Cengic that this sum included not only Slovenian transportation expenses of weapons for Fikret Abdic, but also for some other military formations unknown to the Bosnian Government because it had not ordered them. Since Cengic insisted that he would need a receipt for such a huge sum, as a document for the Bosnian Government, Jansa (according to testimony of Cengic) took out of his pocket a few paper scraps and an envelope with a figure of three million and 132,000 German marks written on it in handwriting. Cengic has never received any other document from Jansa and thus co-operation was lost.

    The whole project had already at the time been threatened by changed political circumstances, new problems had arisen in relation to transportation of weapons from the Maribor airport to Bosnia. War between the Croat Defence Council (HVO) and BiH Army started in Central Bosnia at the beginning of May 1993. Zagreb has set new conditions for transit over its territory, all the helicopters with humanitarian help were allowed to fly only to Jablanica, and an officer licensed by the Croatian government had to be in each helicopter flying from Split to Jablanica. It was clear that helicopters which had previously freely carried military equipment for BiH Army, would be confiscated by Croatian Army already in Split. It was decided that the business carried out through Slovenian connections should wait for better circumstances, for at least a few months. From October to December 1992, arms were transported and stored in Maribor and then transported to Bosnia, later the transportation stopped. The leftover weapons were left at the Maribor airport until July 21 1993, when it was trapped. By that time Jansa had started war even with his lifelong friend Bavcar former minister of police (about money, of course), and he was pressured by increasingly unpleasant questions in the Parliament concerning revealing of secret documents about forbidden trade of arms. He realised that he would not be able to save his ministerial post if the roads of weapons transport in Slovenia were discovered. He was angry because none has demanded his ministry for permission to transport weapons through Maribor. Afraid that he would lose the monopoly, he decided to take initiative and that is how the discovery came about: personally in front of cameras he discovered containers with smuggled weapons. The Maribor scandal was thus produced. Jansa hoped to discredit not only the disloyal Bosnian parties but also rivals from circles around Kucan by a single stroke.

    This is not even an approximate end of the story, as the latest diplomatic conflict with Liberia proved. It is interesting how Slovenia got rid of the hot merchandise stored at Maribor airport; the solution appeared in the form of the Training and Equipment Programme, which Ljubljana shrewdly joined by a specific contribution - it finally delivered Bosnia its own weapons confiscated in Maribor and with an international blessing. Only the Bel helicopter remained in Slovenia, until mutual debts between Sarajevo and Ljubljana are settled. It seems probable that the debtor, after all, is the Bosnian government, but Slovenia would have difficulties to prove this since its ministry of defence does not possess any documents concerning this business owing to the custom of payment in cash (suitcases of money).

    The worst of all is that the stories about arms trade which became public reveal not only the hypocrisy of some politicians but also uncover their hiding behind altruistic wishes to help the victims of aggression. It turned out that high principles are a good screen for hiding high commissions and quite down-to-earth interests. In Slovenia, the number of people who became rich because they were involved in arms trade, is not small; it is a Slovenian peculiarity that this trade developed into an open political conflict between the former minister of defence and Milan Kucan, president of Slovenia. And all this happened in the country which traced its way to independence by anti-military criticism of the former state of SFRY and condemnation of the so-called death trade the former Yugoslav army had been involved in. Mladina from Ljubljana remained faithful to its own principles by revealing most of the documents and testimonies about Slovenian smuggling of arms, continuing consistently to criticise the weaknesses of the new regime. But this is not valid for some of the leading journalists of Mladina. For example, in 1984, columnist Janez Jansa, criticising militaristic appetites of national states, concluded in Mladina that never before had so many people lived on war only because war brings high profits. Seven years later he personally made profit on the same lecture, because he found himself in the company of those death merchants he had so violently criticised in the past.

    Igor Mekina

    (AIM Ljubljana)