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
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
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
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
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
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 ...
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
Q: And did you know what they have done before they became business
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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