Two years ago, Italian police had a wiretap on a black market arms
dealer, when a call came in from a Libyan army officer, looking to buy 500,000
AK-47s, and 10 million rounds of ammo for them. The Italian gangsters were not
used to moving that many weapons, but were game to act as middlemen for such a
deal. The gangsters got in touch with Norinco, the Chinese arms manufacturer,
and explained the situation. The Chinese were up for it, as long as they got
the proper documents signed by Libyan government officials (attesting to the
fact that the Libyan government was, indeed, the buyer of these weapons.) The
Chinese would be discreet, but they wanted to cover their collective asses.
paperwork was duly supplied, and six sample weapons were sent to Libya for
tests. Everything was going well until the Italian police arrested the gunrunners
two months ago, as part of another case. The Italians always planned to arrest
the gangsters before the deal went through, but were willing to just continue
collecting data, to try and find out what Libya wanted with so many weapons.
That's still a mystery, because the gangsters never asked, and the Libyans
never said anything about who would get the weapons. What was clear was that
the Libyans wanted the deal to be done secretly, without any direct Libyan
government connection. The gangsters also handled money laundering and the
shipment of illegal cargoes (usually drugs), so all those details would be
clear that the Libyans didn't want the guns for their armed forces (76,000
active duty and 40,000 reservists). These troops are equipped with much more modern
arms. After all, the AK-47 is a 60 year old design, a weapon that even the
Russians replaced before the Cold War ended.
there is also a Libyan "People's
Militia" that is supposed to have about half a million men in it. But this
organization, founded in the 1980s, never really got off the ground. The
military and police wanted no part of handing out weapons to so many civilians,
most of them with no weapons handling experience. So who were the AK-47s for? Apparently
for foreign groups. For the last three decades, Libya has been shipping weapons
for rebel groups throughout Africa, as part of its attempt to be both
"revolutionary", and to acquire more influence.
Libya usually refuses to admit publicly that is was shipping hundreds of
thousands of rifles, pistols and RPGs to rebel groups. But it was an open
secret. Those who received the weapons knew where they came from, and were not
quiet about it. But half a million AK-47s?
One of the
last items the Italian wiretaps picked up were arrangements for some skimming.
The Chinese were selling the AK-47s (which they called the T-56) for about $80
each. But the Libyans wanted the final price to be $125 a gun, to cover the
costs of payoffs, commissions and bribes.