British couple fined for attempt to smuggle Ukrainian rocket launchers – media
A British couple was slapped with a fine during a court appearance this week following their arrests in May in the French port city of Calais, after they attempted to transport two so-called ‘Bunker Buster’ rocket launchers into the UK from Ukraine, according to media reports.
The deactivated weapons, which were discovered during a routine search of the couples’ van before boarding a ship to the United Kingdom, were given to them as a keepsake while visiting Ukraine, the couple told customs officials according to the Daily Mail.
“They wanted to declare two rocket launchers and other military equipment that they had been given in Ukraine while on a humanitarian mission,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed investigative source as saying.
In addition to the rocket launchers, which were thought to be American-made M141s, officials also reportedly found 14 spent bullet casings in their vehicle, as well as a bulletproof vest which was riddled with bullet holes. The single shot, shoulder-fired M141 is widely used by Ukrainian troops throughout Kiev’s conflict with Moscow.
The discovery of the weapons prompted the declaration of an emergency at the Calais port and an evacuation while bomb disposal experts were called in to determine if the rocket launchers posed a threat to the public. Subsequent analysis determined that the weapons were inoperable, the Daily Mail noted.
Appearing in court this week, one of the unnamed defendants said that the rocket launchers were given to them as “symbols of victory” following the conclusion of a brief, four-day visit to Ukraine. “I’m not a collector,” said one. “They were gifts in thanks - symbols of victory of the Ukrainians, which earned us a lot of trouble at the border.”
The other defendant added that they had contacted British authorities to determine the legality of transporting decommissioned weapons into England, and were told that it was permitted. “Unfortunately for us – and we found out the hard way – the transportation of this kind of thing is prohibited in France.”
The couple were reportedly fined after being found to have “transport[ed] Category C weapons without legitimate reason.”
The United States has supplied Ukraine with numerous M141 rocket launchers as part of a $76.8 billion aid package between January 2022 and the end of May 2023 – 61% of which ($46.6 billion) is in the form of military assistance. The M141, as its “Bunker Buster” nickname suggests, is commonly used in assaults against bunkers and other fortified positions.
Some Western-supplied weapons have fallen into the hands of “criminals, volunteer fighters and arms traffickers” in Ukraine, CNN and Military.com reported on Friday, citing a Department of Defense report obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The document also noted that Washington has experienced “challenges” in adequately tracking and monitoring the whereabouts of Western military equipment in Ukraine.