Wayne Madsen – December 15, 2009
WMR's Asian intelligence sources strongly suspect that an Ilyushin-76 cargo plane seized in Bangkok on December 12 transporting 40 tons of North Korean weapons was a CIA sting operation designed to obtain, using a "front" airline and regular arms smuggling route, the latest North Korean weaponry available for purchase on the black market.
The IL-76 plane was registered in the Republic of Georgia, a close military ally of the United States and Israel. The IL-76, tail number 4L-AWA, has a history that is emblematic of planes used for smuggling weapons. Earlier this year, the plane was sold by East Wing, a "private" airline in Kazakhstan, East Wing, which was formerly known as GST Aero and was accused of involvement in arms smuggling -- particularly to Eritrea, Somalia, and India -- and banned by the European Union and Bahrain -- sold the plane in October to Beibarys, another Kazakh airline. The plane was then sold to Air West Georgia and was re-registered in the Republic of Georgia. The flight number of the IL-76 while flying through Bangkok was AWG 732. The plane has also been associated with Asia Wings JSC of Kazakhstan, which also flies to Hanoi.
The firm that chartered the company to fly the weapons from Pyongyang, North Korea is a New Zealand company called SP Trading Ltd. of Auckland. SP Trading also does business in Ukraine. SP Trading is part of a larger firm called GT Group, a firm incorporated in Vanuatu.
GT Group's website states the firm "is dedicated to providing an extensive range of offshore company services for privacy, legal tax avoidance, asset protection, financial independence and freedom." In addition to New Zealand and Vanuatu, the company has offices in Samoa (Samoa International Company, Inc.) and the Cook Islands (Cook Islands International Company, Inc.). The Vanuatu subsidiary, Vanuatu International Business Company, registers yachts and boats under the Vanuatu flag.
"GT" appears to stand for Geoffrey Taylor who also is the main shareholder of Vicam of 369 Queen Street in Auckland, the same address that houses the offices of SP Trading and GT Group. Taylor has brokered the sale of Azerbaijani oil to New Zealand via two firms, Sumato Energy Group, Ltd. and Vicam (Auckland), Ltd. Taylor has also been involved with two other firms, Petromobil Ltd. and Sunseeker Energy (Australasia), Ltd., solar power equipment company that has operations in New Zealand, Australia, Norfolk Island, and Lord Howe Island.
Of the IL-76's five-man crew arrested by Thai authorities at Bangkok's Don Mueang Airport, four were carrying Kazakhstan passports: Alexandr Zrybnev, Viktor Abdullayev, Vitaliy Shumkov, and Ilyas Issakov. The fifth, pilot Mikhail Petukhou, was in possession of a passport from Belarus.
When Thai authorities seized the weapons, reportedly after a "tip" from U.S intelligence sources, the plane was discovered to have a false cargo declaration stating the plane was carrying oil drilling equipment, a rather strange export from North Korea, a non-oil producing or exploration nation. Instead, the plane was found to be transporting rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, missile tubes, surface-to-air missile launchers, military spare parts and other weapons. Thai authorities stated that the U.S. intelligence sources that tipped them off stated that the final destination for the cargo was "sensitive information." Thai authorities claimed the military cargo would be "destroyed" but the crates and boxes were trucked to a secure warehouse at a Thai air force base in Nakhon Sawan province outside of Bangkok.
The IL-76 landed at Hostomel Airport, near Kiev on October 13, reportedly without any cargo, and flew to Baku, Azerbaijan on December, 8 and onward to the United Arab Emirates (reportedly Sharjah), landing in Bangkok on the morning of December 12 for refueling. The plane took off for Pyongyang and after picking up the weapons landed back in on Mueang, Bangkok at 4 pm on December 12.
The plane's onward destinations from Bangkok were reportedly Colombo, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. WMR's Asian intelligence sources believe that the CIA knew the plane was planning to pick up weapons in North Korea and may have even chartered the aircraft and arranged a deal to purchase the North Korean weapons through shadowy front companies to both embarrass the North Koreans and discover what was being sold on the global weapons black market.
After the plane was seized in Bangkok, dubious sources reported that the plane was en route to Pakistan, Afghanistan, or an unnamed "Middle Eastern" country, such as Iran, to deliver its weapons.
The IL-76's most recent owner, Air West Georgia, has close links with the same ownership, to Sun Air, a privately-owned airline headquartered in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, which runs service to Nyala, the largest city in war-torn Darfur.
The "arms-napping" operation against North Korea came just days after the US Special Envoy to North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, announced, after a three-day trip to Pyongyang, an agreement to restart six-party talks with North Korea. The covert operation to seize the North Korean weapons put the planned talks at risk.
Last updated 26/12/2009