- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

KIEV — Ukrainian weapons dealers smuggled 18 nuclear-capable cruise missiles to Iran and China four years ago, prosecutors said yesterday in revealing fresh details of a probe that will test the new government’s commitment to cleaning up corruption.

The Associated Press reported last month that a government investigation into lucrative illicit weapons sales by officials loyal to former President Leonid Kuchma, who left office in January, had led to secret indictments or arrests of at least six arms dealers accused of selling missiles to Iran and China.

Twelve of the missiles went to Iran and six to China, Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun’s office said yesterday. The Kh55 cruise missiles have a range of 1,860 miles.

The office stressed that the weapons were sold illegally, not exported by state enterprises, and it was Mr. Kuchma’s government that began the probe. Nevertheless, the investigation could further tarnish the former leader’s reputation and spark new calls for prosecution.

“The proceedings against persons implicated have been forwarded to the Kiev Court of Appeals and are being heard behind closed doors,” the prosecutor’s office said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli welcomed the Ukrainian investigation, saying U.S. and Ukrainian authorities had discussed the case, but he did not know whether there were deliveries to China and Iran.

“I think it is fair to say that both the U.S. government and the Ukrainian government share a common concern and a dedication to acting to prevent or to find out and prevent cases of proliferation. That’s certainly true in this instance,” Mr. Ereli said.

Vyacheslav Astapov, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, named one of the accused, Volodymyr Yevdokimov, whom he identified as the director of a cargo company called Ukraviazakaz.

At least three persons were arrested and another three were indicted last year in connection with the illicit arms trade, an intelligence official told the AP in February.

In the Feb. 4 story, the AP reported that six missiles smuggled out of Ukraine purportedly ended up in Iran and six in China, although export documents known as end-user certificates recorded the final recipient of up to 20 Kh55 missiles as Russia’s Defense Ministry, according to a letter from legislator Gregory Omelchenko to President Viktor Yushchenko.

There was no suggestion of Russian government involvement in the suspected smuggling operation.

Mr. Omelchenko did not say at the time what happened to the eight other missiles. The Kh55, known in the West as the AS-15, is designed to carry a nuclear warhead with a 200-kiloton yield.

The missiles purportedly sold to Iran were not armed. The United States accuses Iran of trying to develop a nuclear arms program — an accusation Tehran denies.

Iran does not operate long-range bombers, but it is believed that Tehran could adapt its Soviet-built Su-24 strike aircraft to launch the missile. The missile’s range would put Israel and a number of other U.S. allies within reach.

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