scene in Leonid Minin's hotel room on the night of August 4,
2000 could have been taken from a Quentin Tarrantino film: Minin,
a pale Ukrainian, abundantly fleshy and naked, freebasing cocaine,
flanked by a quartet of Russian, Albanian, Italian and Kenyan
prostitutes. A pornographic film flickers in the background.
Minin, the majority owner of the Europa Hotel in Cinisello Balsamo,
a small town outside Milan, Italy, has transformed his two-room
suite into a bedroom/office and den of debauchery.
Then, without warning, the police arrive at Room 341, putting
an end to the party and derailing the career of a prominent
international gun smuggler and high-level leader of the so-called
Although local police supposedly raided Minin's hotel on a tip
from an unpaid prostitute, FRONTLINE/World has acquired
a report that shows the Milan customs police had had Minin under
surveillance since 1992 while investigating an international
criminal organization involved in laundering international drug
money through the foreign bank accounts of Italian businessmen.
The report also says that in 1997 Italian intelligence services
conducted a "complex investigation on a criminal group of Ukrainian
origins associated with the so-called 'Russian Mafia' and involved
in international arms and drug trafficking, money laundering,
extortion and other offenses. This group is headed by the Ukrainian
businessman Leonid Minin."
That hot August evening in Cinisello Balsamo, police found $500,000
worth of uncut diamonds. Later analysis found most came from
Russia -- no African origins could be confirmed despite the
diamond scales later found in Minin's Liberian office. They
found a duffel bag filled with more than $35,000 in American,
Italian, Hungarian and Mauritian currency. From a briefcase
and piles scattered around the rooms, police collected 1,500
documents -- in Russian, Ukrainian, French, German, Dutch, English
and Italian -- relating to Minin's wide variety of business
operations. Specific findings included documents on his dealings
in oil, timber and consumer goods; an inquiry by Minin into
providing Nigeria's mobile phone network; a follow-up by a colleague
on Minin's proposal to sell a Ukrainian aircraft carrier to
Turkey; an offer from Minin's Beijing representative asking
him to ascertain whether Liberian President Charles Taylor would
be interested in establishing diplomatic relations with mainland
China; correspondence between Minin and President Charles Taylor's
son "Chuckie"; and a record of a $10,263.02 payment to Marc
Rich, best known for his 11th-hour pardon from President Clinton
on charges of fraud and extortion. Rich's oil company, Glencore,
once shared a London phone number with one of Minin's companies
Most important, however, police found evidence of several proposed
and realized arms deals. Most incriminating were several copies
of an end-user certificate (EUC) signed by General Robert Guei,
the former Ivory Coast Head of State. An EUC is supposed to
be a unique document, showing that a specific shipment of weapons
will only be used by the government of a non-embargoed country.
Guei, now deposed, later told U.N. investigators he had signed
only one EUC, at Liberia's request and in exchange for a cut
of the weapons. Police also found maps of the Liberia-Sierra
Leone border and catalogs of weapons, including 5 million 7.62
mm bullets dating from 1949 to 1966. A fax addressed to Minin
from a few weeks earlier requested clearance for a flight of
113 tons of bullets from Ukraine to the Ivory Coast. And bank
documents showed the money trail: Minin paid $1 million to the
Russian company Aviatrend, which brokered the arms purchase
and chartered the plane for delivery. One $850,000 payment went
to an Aviatrend account in Turkish Cyprus; the rest went to
another Aviatrend account at the Chase Manhattan Bank in New
York. Both transactions went through Sulico Holdings, one of
Minin's many off-shore companies, and showed the reference,
"Buying technical material/wood extraction tools."
Although Minin is highly sophisticated, there is no reason to
believe Minin is extraordinary in any way other than getting
caught. The evidence yielded by his arrest and the subsequent
investigation is invaluable to international efforts to stop
the illegal international trade in small arms. U.N.
investigators have contributed expertise to the prosecution
and have had access to the information found at the arrest.
One reason given for the small number of prosecutions in international
embargo-busting is the complexity of such cases. They invariably
involve a vast network of individuals, banks and companies -
legitimate, criminal and paper-based - as well as government
officials from many countries. Professional arms brokers can
easily navigate through the holes in the threadbare patchwork
of national laws which make up the international arms control
system. With equal ease, they can legally distance themselves
from the companies that do their illegal business. According
to Dr. Walter Mapelli, the Federal Prosecutor who is leading
the Minin investigation and prosecution in Monza, Italy: "We
must take into account the fact that jurisdiction is one step
behind criminality today, because criminality is operating globally
and continues to do so all the more."
Dr. Mapelli further explains, "Whereas each state is very jealous
of its own sovereignty and its own prerogatives within its borders,
the consequence of this is that each state only sees one little
segment of the whole business. ... I hope that a successful
outcome in this case against Minin will then mean that such
international smugglers should no longer feel they can exploit
the diversity of legislation between different countries for
Leonid Minin is part of a new generation of highly organized
post-Soviet criminals whose power and success is largely attributable
to the climate of chaos, poverty and disintegrating state apparatus
that governs many former Soviet republics today. Mobsters have
easy access to former Soviet Army stockpiles -- now considered
"surplus" small arms -- favored by embargoed military groupings
seeking cheap weaponry wherever they can get it.
During the Soviet era, the Second Soviet Army was based in Kiev,
Ukraine, as part of the Soviet Union's defense strategy against
a western NATO attack. Ukraine was equipped to maintain a standing
army of 800,000, almost three times the size of Ukraine's military
today. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine inherited
these Soviet stockpiles of military goods intended for a military
far larger than Ukraine's. As Ukraine sank into economic chaos,
defense spending accounted for only 17 percent of the military's
operating expenses, according to Oleg Belosludtsev, a Moscow
analyst quoted in The Guardian(July 9, 2001). He explains
that "freelance arms merchants took over in cahoots with army
officers, plundering the vast surplus stocks and selling wherever
buyers could be found." Belosludtsev estimates that 80 percent
of arms exports were in the hands of these "shadowy structures."
Today Ukraine produces only large weapons -- such as tanks,
missiles and armored personnel carriers -- all of which are
difficult to smuggle. All sales of Ukrainian small arms, defined
as weapons an individual can carry and still be mobile, come
from the stockpiles. Small arms account for the bulk of the
smuggling trade in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government has never officially tried to inventory
its small-arms stocks, despite the massive theft of state property
and the considerable international security threat the arms
pose when sold to organized crime groups, African insurgents
or embargoed states. The government has also has turned a blind
eye to the wealth of army generals, which has mounted amidst
the crumbling of the military.
few frustrating attempts have been made towards investigating
the situation. In Ukraine, a self-appointed parliamentary investigative
commission formed in 1994. According to committee members, the
investigators had no access to arms storage facilities and were
often thwarted by government officials. After four years of
study, the committee found the arms deals were done by high-level
military officials with the cooperation of workers or guards
at the facilities.
A committee member explained the operations of a small arms
sale from the Ukrainian stockpiles with the following example.
If the international market price for an AK-47 bullet was 80
cents, a military official would sell it to "a private party"
for 20 cents. The official doing the deal would put 8 cents
on the books, money which would actually go into the Defense
Ministry budget. Many deals had receipts. The military official
would then pocket the difference between 8 cents and 20 cents.
The "private parties" would get the biggest profit, the difference
between 20 cents and 80 cents, presumably because they face
the risk -- or perhaps just the inconvenience -- from a further
illegal transfer or export.
The most shocking finding of the committee, picked up by the
Western media, was that $32 billion in arms, equipment and military
property were stolen from Ukrainian stocks within six years.
In fact, this figure referred to the total value of all Ukrainian
military property -- real estate, factories, planes, ships,
tanks as well as stockpiles of small arms, ammunition, uniforms
and other goods -- which declined from $89 billion in 1992 to
$57 billion by 1998, due also to loss of market value and lack
of maintenance. One committee member revealed the source of
this figure as coming from a London-based think-tank, but it
could not be confirmed.
While the methods of the investigation may have been faulty
and the findings exaggerated, they are nonetheless alarming.
The committee published a 17-volume study in 1998 that was buried
by the current Kuchma Administration and that remains largely
inaccessible to committee members today. Its chairman was court-martialed
and now lives in hiding out of fear for his own and his family's
lives. One committee-member photocopied and released a 27-page
summary to journalists but only a few smaller newspapers ran
the findings. A publisher, Sergiy Odarych, was shot in the leg
after sending the news to press. To date, the Kuchma administration
has yet to react publicly to the report. And while the investigative
committee submitted its own findings to the chief prosecutor
of Ukraine, not a single official has yet been charged. Another
similar committee formed in 1998 but was disbanded in 2000 before
compiling any findings.
Leonid Minin was placed under arrest on arms charges in June
2001, nearly a year after the incident at the Europa Hotel.
Key to the Italian government's case were the end-user certificates
found in his hotel room. Minin was charged with international
gun smuggling and using a fake EUC to sell arms to Liberia and
Sierra Leone. He is implicated for his role in two shipments:
113 tons of arms delivered to Ivory Coast on July 12, 2000;
and 68 tons to Burkina Faso on March 13, 1999. Minin is now
in a prison outside Milan, awaiting his trial date and facing
a possible 12-year sentence. The smuggling charge is for violating
a U.N. arms embargo adopted by the Italian parliament, thus
becoming Italian law. It is the first such case which does not
involve a national law separate from the embargo. Others have
been convicted for arms deals to embargoed countries, but the
crimes usually have involved national export laws and attempts
to obscure the recipient -- when the customer is a country under
U.N. embargo. The case is potentially precedent setting and
could encourage other prosecutors around the world to bring
more cases against embargo busters.
Little is known about the fate of the sales Minin had proposals
to broker at the time he was caught. Valery Cherny, Minin's
partner from Aviatrend who brokered the purchase of arms for
the Ivory Coast deal, told U.N. investigators $750,000 worth
of weapons were still waiting for delivery when Minin "disappeared"
in June 2001. The documents seized at Minin's arrest indicated
a variety of other deals at various stages of completion.
Even after Minin's highly-publicized arrest, the conditions
for the sales of small arms to embargoed African hotspots remain
the same: a massive supply of small arms sits stockpiled in
the former Soviet Union; extensive networks of organized gun
smuggling are formed, and regroup if discovered; government
corruption and negligence is the norm in impoverished countries;
the system of controls worldwide has little defense against
unscrupulous arms brokers; and the demand for arms remains constant.
While one giant sits bound in prison, doubtless others have
seized the opportunity to replace him, keeping up the flow of
arms from supply to demand.
Brunwasser is a freelance journalist based in Bulgaria. He worked
as field producer on FRONTLINE/World's "Gunrunners"
Additional reporting from Rick Young and William Kistner.
- MONZER AL KASSAR
The Prince of Marbella: Arms To All Sides
relevant to this article:
and the Women
In this article, The Washington Monthly reports
on the tabloid details of Leonid Minin's arrest in a hotel
room with drugs, women and diamonds. "Minin liked to stay
at the equally anonymous Hotel Europa, across the street
from the town's main cathedral, where $75 can get you
a double room and the privacy to do what you want." (The
Washington Monthly, Jan/Feb, 2001)
Destabilizing Effect on Sierra Leone
Canada's special envoy to Sierra Leone examines the security
issues facing Sierra Leone and surrounding countries affected
by the general instability in the region. This thorough
political analysis contains sections on the historical
background of the region and a section on Leonid Minin's
Liberian Perspective on Minin and Gun Trafficking
The Perspective, a U.S.-published Liberian news
service, writes in an editorial that "swift and comprehensive
sanctions are needed to make the 'businesses' of the Minins,
the Kouwenhovens and the Taylors unacceptable and repugnant."
(The Perspective, February 9, 2001)
International Dealers in Death"
This article, one in a three-part series in The Guardian,
calls Minin "the scourge of sub-Saharan Africa." His activities,
it claims, support corrupt regimes, contribute to the
use of child soldiers, and fuel endless civil wars and
insurrections in the region. (The Guardian, July