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14 Aug, 2007 01:52

Illegal arms deal allegedly prevented in Italy

Authorities in Italy believe they have prevented an illegal arms deal destined for war-torn Iraq. Four men in custody are accused of illegally offering to supply Kalashnikov rifles and other arms. They face up to 12 years in prison if found guilty.

Italian anti-Mafia investigators have uncovered a large illegal arms deal allegedly tied to Iraqi government officials.

In 2005 a catalogue of weapons was found during a drug search in Rome's airport.

The discovery lead to a lengthy investigation and the arrest of four Italian businessmen accused of attempting to supply weapons to Iraq. One of them was contacted by an Iraqi trading firm requesting large quantities of assault rifles and machine guns for the Iraqi Interior Ministry – repeatedly claiming the deal is approved by Iraq and the U.S. The men allegedly offered Chinese-made AK-47. However, the Iraqis accepted nothing other than Russian-made weapons.

Eventually, a Bulgarian broker allegedly produced 100,000 improved Kalashnikov rifles and 5,000 PKM machine guns, which he said were all Russian-made.

Russia produces just under 100,000 original Kalashnikovs every year mainly for the needs of its own military. At the same time, the counterfeit AK-47 market amounts to more than a million units a year – produced mainly in China and in deal broker's home country of Bulgaria.

Just as the deal was coming to fruition, Italian police stepped in and arrested four of five Italians involved.