Serbia Defends Saudi Arms Sales After BIRN/OCCRP Probe

By Filip Rudic

Following a joint BIRN and OCCRP investigation, which revealed how weapons from Serbia end up in the hands of fighters in the Middle East, a Serbian ministry said no bar exists on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Serbia’s Ministry of Commerce on Thursday said there was no ban on the export of weapons to Saudi Arabia after a BIRN and OCCRP investigation revealed how machine guns had travelled from a Serbian state-owned factory to Syrian rebels via a Bulgarian arms tycoon and a Saudi training camp.

“Exports to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are not prohibited by any act of the UN Security Council, the EU, or any other international organisation. Most EU countries (Germany, France, Italy) as well as the US are exporting weapons and military equipment to this country,” the ministry said.

BIRN and OCCRP traced traced the weapons directly from a producer in Central and Eastern Europe to Syrian rebels and provided the clearest evidence to date of an arms pipeline previously uncovered by BIRN and OCCRP.

The pipeline has carried to a 1.2 billion euros of weapons from the Balkans, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the Middle East, with Saudi money and, according to a former US, ambassador to Syria, using CIA logistics.

The story illustrated the systematic and illegal diversion of arms by the Saudi regime to places such as Syria, and how governments in the Balkans seem willing to turn a blind eye to this lucrative trade.

The Ministry of Commerce confirmed BIRN’s and OCCRP’s discovery that the buyer was the Bulgarian company, BIEM, and that the end user was the Saudi Ministry of Defence.

In a press release, the Ministry added that it considered the End User certificate, accompanied by a statement, to be sufficient guarantee that the arms would not be re-exported without Serbia’s written consent.

Asked how it intended to prevent abuses in the export of weapons, the Ministry insisted that it had “no legal jurisdiction to undertake other measures to prevent abuses in trade and redirection of weapons to other, unregistered locations”.

Balkan Insight

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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