Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Italian prosecutors get breakthrough in Malta-Libya-Iraq arms smuggling case

Malta Independent

by David Lindsay

Italian prosecutors yesterday sealed a breakthrough in their case against five Italians who allegedly used a company in Malta to broker a multi-million euro arms deal between Libya and Iraq when a Swiss Federal Court ruled the prosecutors could access one of the defendants’ Swiss bank account.

The case had broken in February of last year when Italian investigators uncovered a plot to sell 100,000 AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles and 10 million rounds of ammunition to unknown Iraqi recipients through Libyan government officials, with a Maltese-registered company - MIR Ltd of Pieta - acting as the middleman.

The operation was to have seen the Malta-based company acting as a middleman between Chinese weapons producers and Libyan buyers, who would, in turn, allegedly move the weapons on to Iraqi insurgents, according to coded emails recovered by Italian agents.

Following a request by the Italian prosecutors, the Swiss court yesterday ruled they could be allowed access to an Italian businessman’s Swiss bank account allegedly used to bribe Libyan government officials.

The Swiss court also denied a request from an Italian citizen and a company alleged to have masterminded the deal to block the release of its bank account details to Italian prosecutors.

While the defendant was not named in yesterday’s ruling due to Swiss privacy laws, it is very likely the individual involved was Massimo Bettinotti, owner of the Malta-based MIR Ltd, or Ermete Moretti, the company’s secretary.

Prosecutors in the central Italian city of Perugia have been investigating five Italians, including Bettinotti and Moretti, for illegally dealing in arms and allegedly giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to Libyan officials.

In deciding that the company’s bank details could be released, the Swiss court observed that the request was proportionate to the suspected crime. Swiss banking secrecy laws forbid the release of customers’ details unless there is a strong suspicion that a crime has been committed.

The case had unfolded in February 2007 when Italian police announced that while covertly looking for drugs in a suspect traveller’s checked luggage as part of investigations into a drug trafficking ring, they were instead surprised by their discovery of a weapons catalogue, bullet-proof vests and helmets. The suspect had been travelling from Rome to Libya.

An investigation, code named Operation Parabellum, ensued, which led to the discovery of planned covert arms sales to Libya through the Maltese company, as well as a deal struck for the shipment of 100,000 assault rifles to Iraq.

The deal was to have been enacted through an intermediary in Dubai, which had approached MIR Ltd for the procurement of night visors from Mr Bettinotti and was allegedly told MIR could also procure weapons. The Dubai intermediary, al-Handal General Trading Co., had previously been implicated by American investigators in Iraq’s food-for-oil scandal.

1 comment:

Libyeah! said...

its so humiliating how our officials are so corrupt and accepting of bribes