REPORTS that Slovakia might have been the origin of the RDX high explosive that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a February 15 car-bombing in Beirut have mystified Slovak state security forces.
The French website, intelligence.online, ran a story in its September 1 issue claiming that a Syrian defector, Colonel Mohammed Safi, had said that the 1,000 kilogrammes of RDX used to kill Hariri and 20 other people had come from an unspecified Slovak company by way of a Syrian intermediary living in Istanbul.
Safi allegedly made the claim to Detlev Mehlis, a chief investigator of the United Nations body probing the murder. Safi's information points to the involvement of four generals close to Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud.
According to the SME daily, RDX was made in Slovakia until 2003 only by the firm Chemza, a.s., a daughter company of chemicals firm Chemko, a.s. Strážske.
Ján Kerekeš of Chemko said the firm, which has an Economy Ministry certificate allowing it to trade in weapons, had in the past traded with "various countries around the world, including in Europe, but never with an Arab country".
Vladimír Šimko, the spokesman of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), said the SIS had been aware of the information in the report and was looking into it.
"The SIS has information about the suspicions in this report. We are in the process of verifying all aspects of it. Nothing has been definitively confirmed," he said.
Juraj Tomaga, the spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which has the veto over applications for weapons export licences, said he could neither confirm nor deny the report.
"We have no information that any such trade took place, and as for our control mechanisms, they meet NATO and EU standards," he said.
At the Economy Ministry, which formally issues licences for weapons exports, officials seemed caught off guard. The ministry is in transition following the abrupt dismissal of former minister Pavol Rusko over conflict of interest allegations, and the temporary assignment of ministry business to the purview of Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš.
"Since 2001 no Slovak company has applied for an export licence for explosives to either Syria or Turkey," said temporary spokesman of the Economy Ministry Peter Papanek.
According to documents acquired by The Slovak Spectator on September 7, the Foreign Affairs Ministry has issued at least four approvals of export licence applications for explosives in that time, including two in February 2005.
The approvals are expressed in letters from the director of the section of international organizations and security policy at the Foreign Affairs Ministry to the director of the department of trade in sensitive goods at the Economy Ministry.
As part of the weapons export procedure, the Economy Ministry is obliged to ask the Foreign Affairs Ministry to assess the foreign policy implications of all licence applications, in an effort to avoid having Slovak weapons wind up in embargoed or politically embarrassing destinations.
In letter No. 117.924-17/2003, dated May 2003, the ministry says it has "no objections" to the "application of the company Chemko a.s. for the issue of a licence for the export of explosives to Israel (RDX - 55 t, oktogén - 15 t)". The letter does not enlarge on what quantity "55 t" and "15 t" represents; Octogen (also known as HMX) is sold as a booster charge or an explosive charge.
In similar letters dated March 2004 and February 2005, other Slovak companies received positive standpoints from the Foreign Affairs Ministry on their applications: Chemko to export hexogen (RDX) to Israel, and SMS s.r.o. of Dubnica nád Váhom to export RDX to Poland, respectively.
In the documents at the Spectator's disposal, there is indeed no record of the Foreign Affairs or Economy Ministries approving weapons shipments to Syria since 2001.
On the contrary, in January 2003 the foreign ministry recommended the license of the Unimpex firm to export military hardware to Syria should not be extended, "given the current foreign policy situation in the region".
While the records indicate that Slovakia has not recently approved a shipment of RDX to Syria, Ondrej Varačka, former head of the department of trade in sensitive goods at the Economy Ministry, said that did not rule out that the explosives had originated here.
"If the story is true, there are two possibilities," he said. "Either the goods were legally exported, or they were smuggled out. If the former, then someone in the state administration screwed up, because the state simply has to take responsibility for where the weapons shipments it approves end up.
"On the other hand, if it was illegally exported, there's not much any country can do about that. We do our best, but I would say we only catch two or three out of every ten illegal shipments."
Varačka said that Slovak legislation, which used to allow military hardware to transit for seven days or less through Slovakia without a licence, or to be repaired and re-exported without authorization from the licence commission, had been patched to cover all the holes.
However, he claimed that the level of professionalism among staff responsible for vetting licence applications had declined under the 2004-2005 Rusko ministry, and said he was concerned about political and personal pressures on some arms export decisions.
"The regime remains the same, but some personnel changes have been made, and steps have been taken that have weakened the overall controls," he said. "I think the overall level of attention that has been paid to these exports has fallen."
12. Sep 2005 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson