Albanian bullets and mortars sold suspiciously in Syria

Albanian bullets and mortars sold suspiciously in Syria

State arms export company, MEICO has sold 17.5 million Chinese cartridges, 350 mortars and 40,000 mortar shells to Bulgarian company Alguns Ltd, which was part of the US 's program to train and equip Syrian rebels.

This firm is suspected to have been linked to a deadly explosion at a shooting gallery in Bulgaria in 2015, which caused the death of a coach hired by the Pentagon as a staff member of the Syrian project.

Alguns Ltd is owned by Alexander Dimitrov, who is known as a business partner of Bulgaria's notorious organized crime figure, Boyan Petrakiev Borisov, known by the nickname "Baron".

The details about the sales of more than 1 million euros are exposed by confidential documents on arms exports, provided by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network - BIRN.

These documents show how the old Chinese and Albanian weapons and ammunition are exported to Bulgaria as an integral part of the four export licenses issued by MEICO to Alguns company in 2015.

At the same time, Alguns was hired as a subcontractor of the Pentagon's Special Operations Command (SOCOM), as part of US efforts to supply and train Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Arms experts believe that Bulgaria is unlikely to have been the final destination of Albanian weapons and ammunition, taking into account their age and the fact that Sofia has a relatively modern army and is a member of NATO.

Algun refused to comment on suggestions of experts on the Middle East or Africa about the potential destination of imported weapons from Albania.

Alguns company, linked to the deadly explosion

The Alguns role in arming program and Syrian rebel training was made public for the first time in June 2015, when Francis Norwillo, a 41-year veteran of the US Marine died as a result of the explosion of a shell at a shooting gallery in the village of Aveno, Central Bulgaria. This shooting gallery is owned by the Bulgarian state arms manufacturers, VMZ Sopot.

Emails and contracts secured by BIRN from a lawsuit in the United States and information from human sources in Bulgaria provide new information on the incident.

The involvent of Alguns in the blast remains debatable, but is admitted that the company had a key role in organizing the shooting in the shooting gallery in the wake of the deadly incident.

Norwillo and his wounded colleague, Michael Dougherty had been hired by the Pentagon through a contract worth of $ 28 million, which included training Syrian rebels in shooting with different weapons of Soviet-style. According to a lawsuit filed in Florida by the widow of Norwillo and Dougherty, they have traveled to Belarus and then in Bulgaria, so that the equipment be tested before the opening of training camp in Jordan.

The final destination of the weapons in "the Middle East or Africa"

War in the Middle East has caused an unprecedented flow of weapons and ammunition from the Balkans while Bulgaria plays an important role as a source of armaments and distribution hub for arms brokers.

Asked about buying old stocks from Albania Alguns Pieter Wezeman of the International Institute for Research on Peace in Stokholm - a leading source of information on arms trade, believes that it is unlikely that Bulgaria will be the final destination of ammunition having in mind their seniority.

He said that these devices may have ended up in Syria, Yemen or perhaps in Africa.

"There are several possible scenarios," explained Wezeman. "One of them may involve the transfer of weapons to Syria or Yemen.

Another; corrupt officials in Africa may have purchased it as part of a fraudulent scheme. Surplus weapons often work in Africa to legitimize exports, although in these cases often is suspected of corruption. "

SOCOM did not respond directly to questions about whether bought Chinese ammunition from Albania as part of its Syrian program, saying that journalists should "speak with Alguns on its activities."

Alguns refused to explain what he had done with the equipment after arrived in Bulgaria.

Purple Shovel told BIRN in a written reply that it did not bought Chinese weapons and that "never did directly business with Alguns".

Tirana has a turbulent history in terms of arms exports from its vast reserves of Chinese ammunition supplied in the years 1960-1970, when Beijing was the main military supporter of Albania during the communist regime.

In 2007, the arms broker based in Florida AEY sold millions of Chinese cartridges to Pentagon for use in Afghanistan. Bullets were repackaged in cardboard boxes, in order to be seen as an Albanian production, thus avoiding the Chinese munitions embargo. The owner of the company, Efraim Diveroli was sentenced to four years in prison for fraud in 2011.

Meanwhile in 2011, eight hundred thousand pieces of Chinese ammunition that had to be sent from Albania to the United Arab Emirates were diverted illegally to the Libyan rebels.

Albanian Defense Ministry said Alguns had secured the necessary documents on arms exports to Bulgaria and that it had verified that the company "is not involved in criminal activity."

The ministry added that any re-export of arms requires their consent, although it is widely documented that this point is often not fulfilled.

The Alguns ties with Albania seems to go beyond the purchase of old ammunition, given that the company attempted to obtain a lease for the weapons factory of the communist-era in the small town of Poliçan.

But in a written statement given to BIRN, is said that the plan was canceled./Oculus News

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