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9 Dec, 2008 03:10

'Ukraine laundered billions in arms trade'

Ukraine's government has been accused of illegally trading in arms by its own parliamentary commission. An inquiry was launched to investigate whether laws were broken in the selling of weapons to Georgia. The head of the commission says President Viktor

After more than three months of investigation into arms trading between Ukraine and Georgia, the Rada commission says it's ready to make its results public. According to its head, Valery Konovaluk, the main conclusion is that Kiev sold offensive and defensive weaponry to Tbilisi at a fraction of their real value.

“The weaponry was sold at a highly reduced price. And revenues from the deals never made it to the state budget,” Konovaluk said.

Konovaluk’s investigation has been making waves in Ukraine since September, when the first talk of Ukraine arming Georgia prior to August’s military action came up. The deputy revealed that several air-defence missile systems were shipped to the conflict zone straight from military bases in the west of the country. And allegedly the shipments were personally sanctioned by President Yushchenko. After travelling to  Tskhinval, the commission says it found proof that it wasn’t only Ukrainian arms which were involved in the conflict.

“The most burning issue for us was to reveal whether any Ukrainian took part in the military action. This not only brings more pressure on our leader’s involvement in the war, but also contradicts the will of our people. But here’s the list of the people who operated Ukrainian missile systems in Georgia during the conflict,” says Konovaluk.

Officially Kiev hasn’t reacted to the allegations, but the defence ministry says all weapon sales are legal. But according to Konovaluk, no matter what is being said now, Ukraine’s defence forces have been shortchanged by the deals.

“When President Yushchenko signed a decree to sell air-defence systems to Georgia, the Russian Rosoboronexport company was offering to modernize our production lines. We could have received better weaponry and also created more jobs at our weapon factories. But when Russia learnt that Kiev secretly sold arms to Georgia, it reversed its unprecedented offer,” Konovaluk said.

This is a great loss, Konovaluk says, given the condition of Ukraine’s army, which he describes as crippled.

Meanwhile, the cargo ship Faina with Ukrainian weapons onboard is still being held by Somali pirates. Some sources claim part of the shipment wasn't headed to Kenya, but to Southern Sudan, which is subject to an arms embargo. Should this prove correct, Kiev could face a serious international scandal.