Two-hundred-fifty Swedish [armored fighting vehicles] of the type BMP-1 are secretly being shipped to Iraq, Swedish Radio News reveals. It is illegal in Sweden to export weapons to Iraq, but the tanks are being sold via a company in the Czech Republic.
In 2010, the Swedish Defence Material Administration, FMV, sold 350 light tanks to a state-run Czech company. The vehicles were no longer needed by the Swedish armed forces, and the Czechs said they were going to be used by the Czech army. That is according to the person at FMV who was in charge of the sale.
“They were exchanging parts of their own fleet and were going to use the rest for spare parts,” Jan Villaume at FMV tells Swedish Radio News. “They seemed serious. We had no reason not to believe them.”
But the state-run company turned out to be a middleman for the private Czech company Excalibur, which will now sell on 250 of the BMD-tanks to Iraq.
Andrej Cirtec is the spokesperson for Excalibur. He does not know whether anyone told the Swedes about the export plans, but he admits that the state-run Czech company was used as a middleman:
“The word middleman is pretty right, but I ask, what is wrong with this?”
The problem is that due to the Swedish export rules, FMV wouldn’t have sold the weapons to the Czech Republic if they had known the end customer was Iraq. They wouldn’t even have sold them if they had known that the private company Excalibur was the buyer.
“We were informed by them too that they were interested, and we told them that we cannot sell to them, since they are a private company,” Jan Villaume at FMV tells Swedish Radio News.
In Sweden, the current, as well as the previous, government have said no to weapons export to Iraq. But as it is formally the Czech republic that is selling the vehicles, there is nothing Sweden can do.
“We clearly wouldn’t have made the deal directly with Iraq, so it is now an indirect deal. It seems legal, but is not so good,” says Jan Villaume at FMV.
According to Pieter Wiezeman at the peace research institute SIPRI, which publishes a yearbook on weapons sales around the world, the Swedes have been naive.
“Realistically, I think that they should have known that these tanks probably were not meant for the Czech Republic. They should have investigated this more carefully, that would have been very easy to do,” says Wiezeman.
Swedish Radio News asks Wiezeman: “If they had asked you, you would have said that the tanks were not for the Czech army?”
“I would have said: don’t sell to such a company, because I am guessing they will sell it on to a country that Sweden would not want to sell to,” says Pieter Wiezeman.