Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Members of Ukraine’s intelligence service and two Russians took part in an elaborate plan to sell 20 long-range cruise missiles to China and Iran, according to a Ukrainian government official.

Details of the transfer are outlined in a letter from Hrihory Omelchenko, deputy chairman of the Ukrainian parliamentary committee on organized crime and corruption, to the country’s new president, Viktor Yushchenko.

The Jan. 28 letter states that an investigation into the transfer of the Kh-55 air-launched cruise missiles is being thwarted by former officials of the government of former President Leonid Kuchma.

“These cruise missiles were hidden on military depots of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry under the control of [the Defense Ministry] and under documentation signed by senior officials of the ministry, saying they were in fact designated as destroyed,” stated the letter, which was first reported on by the Associated Press in February.

Mr. Yushchenko, who will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress today, promised to investigate the sales. Ukraine’s prosecutor-general last month said missiles were smuggled out of the country, which has led to indictments.

According to the letter, the Kh-55 missile deal began in 2000, when the two Russians connected to a foreign trade company known as Progress provided a false contract for the Russian state arms-export company Rosvoorouzhenie to buy 20 cruise missiles.

One of the Russians gave the false contract to the Ukrainian export company UkrSpetzExport.

Six missiles were sent by aircraft to China in April 2000 with the help of the two Russians and a reserve officer of the Ukrainian intelligence service who headed the Ukrazviazakaz company in Kiev.

The Russians were paid $600,000 to transport the missiles through several front companies, including firms in the United States, Cyprus and Hungary.

The Iranian side of the missile deal took place from May to June 2001, when six Kh-55 missiles were sent by aircraft to Iran.

Mr. Omelchenko did not say in the letter where the remaining eight missiles were sent.

The Iranians paid $49.5 million for the missiles and the shipment was disguised using forged documents that identified the shipments as oil-pipeline material.

Three persons involved in the missile deal died in automobile accidents, according to the letter.

One of the Russians involved in the deal, O.H. Orlov, is being detained in the Czech Republic and the second Russian, E.V. Shelenko, is being sought, the letter said.

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