Interviews

GUSTAV ILLICH

GUSTAV ILLICH is a 47 year old Slovakian trader, based out of West Germany. A musician and part-time arms dealer, he was contacted by a German businesswoman named Ms. Klein who was looking to buy enriched uranium and thus was caught in the German undercover sting operation. He boasts of a good relationship with the higher-ups in the Russian military and mafia, and during the course of his search for material claims to have even been offered material from a nuclear warhead. In the course of the undercover operation, Illich would provide the German police with uranium samples on four different occasions, including one sample of 87.7% enriched uranium identical to the material seized in Prague six months later.

This interview was conducted in 1996.


Q: I understand that you were doing a lot of trading with Russia and Russians.

ILLICH: I was focused on the Soviet Union. Yes.

Q: And people have told me that after certain period of time, essentially after 1991 when the Soviet Union disappeared, essentially you could buy anything in Russia. One could buy anything in Russia. What kinds of offers were made to you?

ILLICH: I had a very good offer from the director of production of MIG fighter-planes. The newest ones were MIG-29 and MIG-31, and both were about to enter the market in January, 1993. And I had obtained the right to sell these MIG-31s. This was one of the bigger things. And, naturally, I had a lot of friends, in atomic research. And, for instance, one director of a company producing plutonium and uranium, asked me whether I could help [his company] sell those things, because they had gone three months without enough money to pay their officials. The state didn't give them anything, and the state asked them to get actively involved in selling things that could be sold. Simply, they were told to sell uranium or plutonium to official Western buyers. Well, and I had been telling him - we knew each other personally - and I was telling him, You know what? I think it's not possible to sell this. Nobody wants this. Everybody tries to get rid of it and nobody wants to buy it. But, if I, by chance, hear something, I'll let you know.

Q: And then, eventually, did you hear people who wanted either MIGs or plutonium or uranium?

ILLICH: Yes. Today, I see it through different eyes. Today, I see that the whole case was conspired and I was set up, because somebody was quite well informed about my connections and contacts.

So, we met in Landshut, at the hotel Eisenhofe. We sat there, the four of us, and this man, Boden as he introduced himself, from Munich, asked for everything I could offer him. So, I presented it all to him. I told him, for example, that I am authorized by the Czech producer of a special radar, and that I could sell six pieces of that radar to somebody with a license to buy it. And then I offered him MIGs, those Russian helicopters, and also various kinds of metals that I had at that time. Scandium. I also had nickel and aluminum.

Well, and I showed my collegues' catalog to Boden too, and proposed that he choose something from it. And there were hand guns, like pistols and Scorpions. And he said, "Oh, Scorpions. I want those." And I said there were troubles with them, because the whole series of them had been sold two years in advance. However, if he really wanted them, I would manage it somehow; he could have ten thousand pieces. And he said, "That would be fantastic." And I didn't like him. But Ms. Klein vouched that he was one hundred percent reliable, and that he had the government license to trade this kind of material. So, I didn't bother myself with that. And he said, All right, and asked me to make him an offer and to contact those people. When we were leaving, he leaned towards me and asked in a very low voice if I would be able to obtain plutonium or uranium for him. And I said, You know what? That's the least problem. Because I have a friend, who's a director in Kazakhstan who's sitting on it. They have tons of it and they don't know what to do with it. I also said that "two years ago, or one-and- a-half, I'd been in Kazakhstan and my friend asked me to find a buyer for him. But if you're that buyer, do you have a permit for it? And he said, Yea, I have all the necessary documents to buy the goods and that he needed it for some power plant. I told him, "In that case, no problem.

So I did call, full of joy. I was so happy that they would finally get rid off it and that they would have some money. So I called and told him my friend from Kazakhstan that there was some buyer, a German; he had permission, I had not seen it, but he claimed that he had all the documents and had interest in plutonium and uranium for a power station. And he answered, "It's no problem."

So I called Boden in Munich. I told him I had contacted the guy and he said the deal could be undertaken, if he had all the needed documents. And Boden said, "I have everything, no problem. It's super! We'll make this deal." So we agreed on a price and the percentage that I would get. That was the beginning of the bad luck that fell on me.

At our second meeting, he told me he solved the plutonium matter, he had a source already, who would supply him with plutonium, but that he still did not have uranium. And I said that my friends didn't have a problem with either plutonium or uranium. "They'll supply you with anything you want. Actually, he personally said it all to you." And Boden said "Mr. Illich, find people for me somewhere, people who have it, somewhere close, maybe in Ukraine, or in Bohemia, in Slovakia, in Hungary, in Bulgaria; who has it and who can give it to me immediately, because I need it. I have to prove to my boss that I am able to get this and I need 2.7 kilos of it. It's for one load in the reactor. And it has to be of a high enrichment. Above 90% enriched uranium.'

And I told him 'Look, here in Czechoslovakia, I don't know anybody who trades in it. But I'll ask, if, by accident - because uranium is mined here - if somebody does have it, by chance, some institute, and can sell it.' And he said I should ask all my colleagues with whom I have contact if they might know somebody. I told him "All right, I'll do it, I'll ask," because I assumed that he was a person with honest intentions, that he was telling the truth. That he was not an imposter. That he had all the documents for it - what he always claimed. That's why I assumed I traded with this and he traded with that. He knows what he says, what he can and cannot. I know what I can and what I cannot.

And I told him "It won't be that easy, it's so many people, and I don't know people who trade it on the black market.' And he kept begging, he used to call me every day. Mrs. Klein, she was ringing me every day, even ten times, they were ringing me at night. They did not leave me in peace. He was ringing from the morning, from half past six, till evening, sometimes at night, at half past one. They were disrupting my whole life. I was psychologically so nervous, because they were asking as if I would have to do it for them. He always demanded that I must help him, because his boss was creating enormous pressure on him. I quarreled with both of them several times, I told them "Don't call me any more, I don't want to have anything to do with you any more. Because the business is not based on that, I'm not use to this kind of treatment.

Q: OK. So after Boden refused to give you these documents showing that what he wanted was above board, didn't you get suspicious that maybe this was not a legal deal?

ILLICH: No. I just asked Mrs. Klein. I told her on the phone because he still wanted people to bring uranium. And I announced to all my colleagues everywhere that there was an official buyer of this material and he needed a sample of it to be transported to Munich. Then, he would get it analyzed and if it was indeed good material, he would buy it. Despite the fact that it was black material. And I told him "Just a moment - it's impossible, I cannot be involved in this, because you want something illegal, some black material, black uranium, or plutonium. It's impossible," I said, "for me to be involved in it."

Then Mrs. Klein called me and said, "Excuse me," how come I was withdrawing from the deal now, when we were so close to success. And I told her "Mrs. Klein, who will take the responsibility if anything happens? What if the people, who bring a sample, what if they were caught? Who will carry the responsibility then? I don't want to, for sure." And she said "Mr. Illich, you won't have anything to do with it. I and Mr. Boden are taking all responsibility. We just need your contacts, we just need you to contact us and I will do the rest." So I did so.

Q: And how much money was he offering for uranium?

ILLICH: He said he would pay any price for good quality. Up to one million, for instance. One million per a kilo.

Q: And by good quality, did he mean highly enriched uranium?

ILLICH: Highly enriched, 235, more than 90%. And even this didn't make me hesitate, because I never took an interest in this material. If I had been somewhat familiar with it, then - it's clear to everybody, who is engaged in it - that if the uranium is enriched 90 percent or more, then it is for military purposes. For civilian use, power stations do not need that highly enriched uranium. It's not even used.

Q: It's strange to me that you did not understand since you have told me about all of your contacts in the military and weapons and all of that. I don't understand how you can know all that and not know that this material is only for weapons use.

ILLICH: Not that I did not know. I just did not link it together. Simply, I did not even think about it. There was no reason for me to do so. If I would have had some tiny suspicion, than - maybe - my brain would begin to think. But I never discussed it with anybody. And nobody had such highly enriched uranium, nobody on the black market. Because it didn't exist. Everything that was ever delivered as samples, all of them were frauds, not uranium, but spent fuel, simply trash. I didn't link it together somehow, why it should be 90% enriched. Today, it surprises me, too.

Q: So and how did you find that group in Prague who in fact had highly enriched uranium?

ILLICH: By accident. I was calling around to all my colleagues, telling them "If you meet somebody who trades in uranium, then remember that I have a buyer here who's interested in it." That I would put them in contact, just let me know. So they then made a contact with me, those people, and claimed they were able to get this material.

Q: And?

ILLICH: I met them for the first time here, in Prague. We discussed all the possibilities at hand. I told them that the buyer needed - if possible - goods from the black market, not official goods. I asked them if they were able to get something like that. And one of them answered it was quite likely, that, in fact, it was possible: There was some material of very good quality probably matching the quality requested. The goods were here in Prague. I went back and informed Boden. I told him there were people here who claimed they had this and that. They gave me one certificate, an analysis, and I faxed it to him immediately from my house. I told him those people are here, I knew them and I spoke with them. I also told him I verified the goods: the goods really existed, it was in a certain bank and it was available for sale. He could buy it.

Q: Tell me about the people who had this uranium in Prague?

ILLICH: The person whom the material belonged to, or, who was supervising was a former atomic physicist, who was familiar with this kind of material. I talked with him several times. I did not like him at all, because he drank a lot. He was always drunk when I spoke with him. That's why I didn't consider him a business partner. I didn't trust him much, because he seemed to be an alcoholic. The people around him, they were quite younger. I got to know them much better. They also had access to the goods. They confirmed that it was not them, but only him who could decide about the sale, and I should accept him as he was. I said, "As far as I'm concerned, I don't mind, but if I introduce him to the buyer and he's drunk, then it will be a "disaster". If one makes deals, one should be aware of certain limits; one need not come shit-faced drunk. One has to be able to talk about what matters. Well, they vouched that this guy was all right: he just liked to have a drink. It was too late to do anything about it and there was no other option for us but to accept it.

Q: You've told me in many different ways how you were dealing in metals and weapons and that sort of things ...back and forth from the former Soviet Union. Can you just describe it to me?...Briefly. You get a call from someone, they want something. What do you then do?

ILLICH: I had very good friends in the government and in the military on the highest levels, simply the top leaders. And they gave me references when the subject was metals. They said right away that I could help, then they called me and told me that he was sending someone. And that's in general how it worked. For example they would tell me: We have now 100 tons of such and such goods and we need to sell it quickly. What are the options? At what price? And to whom can we sell? That's how it worked. I let them confirm the deal. And I found a buyer here and then I went there, checked everything out, discussed everything and that's how it was run. It was on the basis of recommendations. Someone who had something, he called me.

Q: How do you have so many good friends...high in the government and in military circles, that sort of things in Russia or in former Soviet Union?

ILLICH: I don't know that myself, I'm surprised myself. It started...I would say...over a time when many people were looking for goods that they couldn't get anywhere...So only in certain circles of society one could get these. And one could get into those certain circles only through the intelligence services, those networks. And I hooked myself up through my friends, all of whom belonged to the KGB. That's how it went, by personal referrals.

Q: I find it hard to believe that someone with your experience and your contacts did not know exactly what he was doing. Mr. Boden wanted highly enriched uranium, he was offering a lot of money for it and you spent a lot of time trying to find it.

ILLICH: Throughout my life I was always trying hard, in everything I was doing. When I start something, I finish it. I was used to obstacles. And I never worried about anything, because I based it on the fact that he is a legal buyer and if he has necessary papers and if he buys, then he's also able to defend himself. He gave me guarantees that I would never have anything to do with this. And I blindly believed that, because I was used to... when I told someone, I'll arrive at a given time or I'll give you that and that, then that was it. I did not back out of it. Even when I had some problems, I would do it, because I had promised it. I based it on the assumption that he's a straight shooter. And therefore I never thought he might be some kind of crook, that they are setting up a trap for me. It never crossed my mind, because...I never dealt with those kind of people, those who play tricks. Because in the circles where I move, they don't waste too much time on people who play tricks. Such a person has too short a life.

Q: How did it feel at the moment that you were arrested for handing over a sample of this highly enriched uranium to Mr. Boden?

ILLICH: You know what? It ran through my mind like a bad movie, a bad dream. At that second, the entire episode rushed through my mind. I was saying to myself: Oh boy! I couldn't believe it. I thought it was some kind of trick, that someone was joking. And then I ran it all back through my memory and I was told myself: That's disaster. Because it was obvious that it had all been, from A to Z, planned, organized, and executed.

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