AN ARMS trading company under investigation by the United States Congress for supplying worthless ammunition to Afghani forces recently bought weapons in Slovakia, The Slovak Spectator has learned.
AEY, Inc. of Miami Beach was awarded a $298 million contract in January 2007 by the US military to act as the main weapons procurer for native Afghani police and armed forces. However, the company lost that deal at the end of March after The New York Times reported that it had bought sub-standard, decades-old Chinese ammunition and weapons from Albania and then sold them to Afghani troops, claiming they were of Hungarian manufacture.
The firm also bought guns and ammunition for its Afghan contract in former Communist countries like Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, according to the Times. Afghani troops are equipped mainly with old Soviet-made weapons, and thus cannot be supplied from surplus Western stock.
AEY was listed as the "foreign contractual partner" on an export license for over 1.6 million rounds that it had obtained from the Slovak companies Petina International and ZVS Holding. The license was issued by the Economy Ministry on March 18.
Neither ZVS director Miroslav Solava nor business director Vladimír Ďuriš, both of whom signed the licence request, responded to repeated requests for comment. From its own stock, ZVS provided one million 7,62mm rounds, which fit machine guns of the kind used in former Warsaw Pact countries.
Petina, meanwhile, provided 636,435 rounds of 108mm ammunition, which fits anti-aircraft machine guns. The company originally acquired the ammunition in 2002 from the Defence Ministry. "There must be some kind of mistake," said Petina boss Peter Peniaška. "We have nothing to do with them [AEY]."
Informed sources told The Slovak Spectator that at the time The New York Times story was published, AEY President Efraim Diveroli was in Slovakia, and that he was in contact with the arms company Corvus Slovakia. "Who gave you that information?" asked Corvus director Peter Krasňanský, before hanging up the telephone.
Economy Ministry spokesman Branislav Zvara said that according to his information, AEY had not been involved in any other licensed arms exports from Slovakia. "The licence was issued for this one case only," he said. The Foreign Ministry also said that it had no information on further AEY activities in Slovakia.
Elsewhere, however, the AEY scandal is causing serious embarrassment. In Albania, Attorney General Ina Rama has opened an investigation into claims that senior politicians, including Prime Minister Sali Berisha and Defence Minister Fatmir Mediu, were involved in arms trafficking with AEY. The New York Times published transcripts of a phone conversation in which Diveroli appears to say that Albanian politicians took bribes to facilitate arms trades.
In Hungary, meanwhile, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány asked the National Security Office to review his country's ammunition supplies to Afghanistan.
But official discomfort is greatest in the United States, where critics of the Pentagon's procurement policy are asking how a company run by Diveroli, a rambunctious 22-year-old, and his 25-year-old partner, a trained masseur, could have won such a prominent contract.
Diveroli was arrested in Miami for drunk driving last month, and in the past was also charged with assaulting a parking attendant and using a false ID card that made him appear four years older. The legal drinking age in Florida is 21.
"He's a young man. He has girlfriends and he goes out," said Angelo Diveroli, Efraim's grandfather, for The Miami Herald. "I know sometimes he stays up all night because he has to deal with people in different time zones."
"AEY's proposal represented the best value to the government," the Army Sustainment Command wrote in explaining their choice of contractor. However, on April 3 the Army suspended AEY's international exports, and launched a criminal investigation into Diveroli's activities.
14. Apr 2008 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson