Interviews

VACLAV HAVLIK

Vaclav Havlik became involved in international trade shortly after the Berlin Wall fell, which opened up new opportunities for commerce in the former Soviet Union. He began with groceries, medical supplies and other consumables, bringing them in to the hungry Russian market. As his contacts expanded, he realized that demand for Western goods and money was so strong, that people were willing to offer virtually anything in exchange, including nuclear materials. Havlik was arrested near Landshut, Germany for smuggling uranium and sentenced to 13 months in jail. He served his time, and now runs a bar in Prague.

This interview was conducted in 1996.


Q: You called yourself a trader. You would hear that someone wanted something and then you would try to find it from somewhere else?

Havlik: Yes. The main commodities were not, of course, uranium bars, or any other, let's say, unusual stuff. Simply, my business consisted of international transport and international trade, which meant mainly food, exported to Eastern countries--Russia, Mongolia--where I found a pretty good market.

Q: What kinds of things?

Havlik: Groceries. From, let's say, beer to alcoholic beverages to baby food, and different sanitary materials, I don't know, adhesives, bandages, these things. Common groceries for human beings.

Q: So, ... how did you decide to look for this Cesium, when you heard someone wanted Cesium?

Havlik: They were looking very tenaciously for Cesium. With the help of several acquaintances, I finally reached an export firm that exports from Russia. And because I had money on hand, I bought 20 kilos.

Q And where did you find the Cesium?

Havlik: From that Russian export firm. This firm has its branches not only in Latvia, but also in, for instance, Ukraine and so on. The headquarters are in Moscow.

Q: And what did you do before you got into export business?

Havlik: You mean before I started with trading, let's say, before 1989? I earned my living by driving a truck, and as a dispatcher, a transport supervisor, in various ways. I was somehow around the transportation ...

Q: And then life changed, there were new opportunities?

Havlik: Well, actually in 1989, I realized exactly on the 8th of December that there was a revolution at ours. I was quite surprised. Actually, all my life I wanted to do something completely different. I wanted to be on my own, to direct my life myself, not that somebody would just write my life on a lined paper and then I had to obey. So I immediately left the farm and on the first of March in 1992, I officially opened my firm. And now I am closing it again. In the one year of my absence, everything broke down, everything is in ruin, and now I must begin again.

Q: So, what would you do now?

Havlik: Now, the only thing that's left is a piece of this pub. And I think I am working on my own, so I hope to connect that somehow. I can somehow, let's say, take the first step after all the old problems are liquidated and cleaned up for the next life. I suppose you know how old I am, so it's not a problem to begin again. I can even do it several times.

Q: At night in this restaurant, Mr. Illich, Boden, Wagner... all would be there. Tell me a little more about those meetings and what those people were like?

Havlik: Well, Mr. Wagner never used to sit here, and Mr. Boden has also never been here in person. But there were many, many others, different would-be buyers, who claimed that they were from the same company. Even an owner of some German company. If it was not another intentional set up for me--well, simply there were really plenty of people here and the only interest they had was in these rare metals. Isotopes.

Q: So, everyone was talking about deals and materials that they wanted and what they pay for it ...

Havlik: Yes.

Q: Describe the atmosphere.

Havlik: Well, it was different. From the beginning, I did not take it that seriously because I did not believe that such a powerless little man like me could ever gain access to these kinds of materials or even to trade in them. It took some time till I began to pay attention to it. Over some period of time I began to dedicate more time to it and I found out that with the help of various acquaintances, it was really possible. I'll say it in a different way: When I export something to the eastern part of Russia, where people are really hungry for goods and are willing to pay quite a good price for it, then it is really possible to--through their other acquaintances--get access to places where one can talk about any kind of goods for any amount of money. Actually, one can buy anything. One just cannot sell everything.

Q: And what kinds of things were you able to buy?

Havlik: It was--as far as isotopes are considered--rather difficult, but I finally gained access to the Cesium, and to those radioactive materials, pellets, and maybe with time, I could go even further. And the highest interest was in uranium pellets, at least as far as I or my firm was concerned. At that time I knew, of course, that no other plants wanted it, only the Russian-built reactors. Well, after all, I needed a business to make some money. This was, however, money-losing. It cost enormous amounts of money. So, I had to earn money somewhere else, so that I could, if need be, finance this half of the bargain. And I believe that I would have gained access to any kind of goods over time. I don't know, within three years, I would be able to get anything over the phone. If Mr. Boden was a buyer and not an agent or policeman, which in fact he was; if the interest was really reliable, then it would be easy to make a business, I don't know, with uranium, in tens of tons without any problem, to anywhere. Actually even any kind of goods, because Mr. Boden did not want just this, he would like to have had helicopters, he would want weapons, but this was not my field. So, I found the firms for him, that would work for him, that would know how to supply him with either military helicopters, civilian helicopters, weapons and so on. As I'm saying, the interest was reliable, the helicopters that I had contacted, after let's say several discussions, I withdrew because they saw that it was bad. They simply set their conditions, in a professional manner. And then I withdrew when the party did not keep these conditions. That was the end.

Q: With what kinds of people were you making contacts with in Russia for all of these different kinds of things?

Havlik: Businessmen. I guess, not politicians, more likely just businessmen.

Q: And did you know what they have done before they became business people?

Havlik: Yes. About some people, I do know. I have a friend there who owned a bank, or he still owns a bank, he did not go into bankruptcy yet, in comparison with others. It's hard to say. He was a director of a bank a long time ago, then the circumstances changed, so he made it his own property in some clever way, probably like at ours. People who had an access to power at that time, they kept it, of course. They threw away the red book and moved on--this time on their own.

Q: And do you know where it was that you were going to be able to get more and more uranium once you have made this first contact?

Havlik: Well, I would have obtained it somehow. Let's say, if it would not have been a fake setup and if everything had worked out and the buyer was satisfied, then uranium would flow out of Russia.

Q: And did you know that it was from certain kind of plant, a heating plant or some other kind of place?

Havlik: No, it was from producers.

Q: In Russia.

Havlik: Hmm.

Q: Tell of the details about the specific events that led up to your arrest. Did you get a phone call from Mr. Illich or did he call you, how did you get involved with trying to help him find the material that he wanted to find?

Havlik: It began a very long time ago at some American firm here, involved in similar black market deals. I suppose they were not as silly as I was. They did not go as far as I did--so they didn't visit over there, behind bars. And it was there where I met Mr. Illich. Everything began with that meeting. There was a demand for Cesium, Scandium, for all of these rare metals. The highest demand was for Cesium. However, after three or four months, when I was trying to get my stuff back, I didn't want to have anything to do with Cesium any more. I was about to get out. If they did not want it, then at least the goods got back into my hands. So I wanted to get out. But then there were so many visitors here I cannot describe it--simply the parking lot outside was full of very expensive and luxurious cars, and expensive dinners and everything you can imagine, just to make me to begin with it somehow. The visitors probably realized that the scandal--which in my opinion [was] provoked on purpose--that I was the one closest to this scandal from all the people they cooperated with. Only later I found out that ... Mr. Boden--which is, of course, just the cover name of that German policeman--that he had not only me through Mr. Illich, but that he had several more sources here in Prague ... and he was just waiting for who would come up with something. He also visited Prague, but we didn't meet, so I think he didn't desire to meet me that much. He needed me to meet him in Germany and carry at least a couple of grams of some goods for which he could arrest me. Because I remember very well, though only from German television, how there suddenly appeared active discussions about everything that happened and how we were threatening the lives of several pure helpless Germans--we, here from the East, ugly people. But at the same time, we didn't want these kinds of goods, right? The business was, of course, interesting, if it would have just been an ordinary buyer. Because it took two years of hard work, and then I had to work with even more people, till I finally obtained the goods. It was not quite that easy to do so.

Q: How did you ever got involved in this situation that led to the arrest at Landshut ?

Havlik: It was not exactly at Landshut, it happened near Erving, at the parking lot Fierhofen. But in Landshut, there was a court where I was judged. How did I get into it? Let's say, four years ago, I slowly started to become familiar with these types of materials, based on my knowledge that there's a high demand for it in Germany. I also learned that, of course, this demand does not involve only uranium. But uranium was the highest in demand. They wanted to buy this kind of material, and they tried to purchase it in different ways. They gave me some papers in order to buy goods for my firm, with the agreement that the goods would later be sold in Germany. The goods were Cesium 133, 20 kilograms, which was indeed later exported into Germany. However, they never paid for it, contending that it was official and so they didn't want it. So the goods were sent back here, but while I was in custody for 13 months and one day, it got lost from the stock of my firm. Well, how to explain it ... From this Cesium, the matter developed more and more. It reached its climax in 1994, let's say, when uranium bars were demanded. The demand was for tens of tons of uranium to be later burned in different nuclear power stations of the Russian type, somewhere, they said. Well, they kept demanding samples, but you could not simply buy samples because, in this business, it's not common to give samples. At the end, when I realized that they were somewhere in Slovakia, I decided to obtain them. That was a mistake. I asked them to send the sample to me, and then I travelled to Germany with it. The meeting between myself and the would-be buyer, a German police officer, was at the parking lot Fierhofen, which is north of Munchen. The agreement was that he would pick us up, or pick me up there, and then we would drive to his offices, where, allegedly, he was able to analyze whether or not the goods were what he required. Well, he was there, of course, with his little car; and when he saw that what I brought was what he wanted, they jumped on us, trashed us a little bit--just for us to see what they are able to do--and, we were finished. Well, and since then, we are publicly known, especially me, and other people who "got a ride with me."

Q: "Were you surprised when the officers came out and arrested you?"

Havlik: No. What we were taking there had a value of approximately $100. And it did not occur to me at all to analyze it that far, which was also my mistake, that somebody could possibly arrest me just because of that. For $100 worth of some pellet, that is not even radioactive or nothing. So, I don't know how to explain it.

... And I never took interest in such a material like semtex. If something like that occurred, I found out a company that was officially engaged in that and passed it on to this company. I myself did not do anything with it. Simply, these were materials that did not interest me. I would have been more interested in food. I don't know, if somebody would want a million tons of flour, but not this.

Q: And do you know that the material that you gave to Mr. Boden was not highly enriched uranium, right?

Havlik: No, it was not highly enriched uranium. I know, of course, what you intend by this question, but it is just a fuel--as for a person who is not familiar with it--like benzene, right, that contains other elements, because nothing of 100% exists. Uranium is not 100% either. And this was about four to six percent enriched uranium per pellet. It depends on, how to say it, the pellet has to fit into a part of a reactor, and it is in cylinders, so that the inner cylinder has a different percentage of uranium than the outer one. That's why about four to six percent of uranium 235.

Q: But did Mr. Illich, for example, keep asking you for higher enriched uranium?

Havlik: No. He wanted bars from me.

Q: Were the pellets that you got from your contractor in Russia, was there any sort of paper identifying what it was, what kind it was?

Havlik: No, there wasn't.

Q: So, you did not necessarily know what it was?

Havlik: I knew it, because I had it analyzed. I took one pellet and gave it to one of my acquaintances, and he got it analyzed for us to know what it was.

Q: How did you know that the pellets were Russian?

Havlik: I knew it from the suppliers. But it was not from Russia, I think that it came from Ukraine, but I am not sure.

Q: Do you know where the highly enriched uranium that were involved in the case, from Illich or someone else?

Havlik: I do not know from where, you mean Mr. Wagner for sure, don't you? How they were arrested here in Prague, I think with 28 kilograms of about 70% enriched uranium. I actually didn't even know about that. Ithappened when I had already been in custody for half a year.

Q: So, it sounds like that there were lots of different people to find uranium for this sale.

Havlik: For sure. When something is demanded for a long time, money is being offered, advantages and possibilities exists, then it's just a matter of time before a couple of people simply agree to begin work on it. A Czech proverb says "opportunity makes a thief." Thus even a decent person can make a mistake, right? When somebody is tempting you with something for a long time, he would get you in the end. Then, the only important thing is what are the consequences, right? In Germany, they didn't prove anything other than the fact that I had transported across boundaries something that was worth about $100, and it was not even radioactive or dangerous. In spite of it, however, I got 13 months, a life-long ban on travelling to Germany, and well, here in the Czech Republic, the consequences are different. But I still have my family, and that's the main thing.

Q: ... Do you have any idea who is organizing the theft of material in Russia, what kinds of people?

Havlik: Thefts of material, how to say that. Simply, there are coins lying all over on the floor in the mint. There is milk flowing on the floor in the dairy. And where this material is produced, it wouldn't be a problem for a few persons there, of course, not everybody, but for these few persons to carry, I don't know, some of it out as a sample.

Q: I have been told that there was this period of time in '92, '93, '94 when radioactive material everywhere, everyone wanted to buy it. And my question is: Did anybody talk about this material being dangerous, how it could be used, that sort of thing.

Havlik: Nobody can do anything with that uranium, it's simply impossible. If some German prosecutor said that we could provide it, I don't know in what quantity, and that in a couple of years we would have that quantity of plutonium somewhere, then it is, you know, kind of ... it is to be counted ... out of one ton ... the reactor has to work for several tens of years before it produces something of some further use. The dangerous material is something of a high radioactivity, I don't know, that can be used also for terrorist acts and so on, but you cannot use this for that. And uranium as well--those 28 kilos that were caught here in Prague--it could not be used either. You know, it's more or less a matter of political discussion among judges, police, and so on. Sure, in my opinion, I learned a lot about these kinds of material at the time--what it is, what it can do and what it cannot do, what is dangerous. There are highly dangerous materials, but they actually did not even want them, nobody asked me for it. Or they thought that we couldn't get access to them.

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