Excerpt Chapter I
The surplus of weapons and ammunition in the Balkans is the result of the 90s Balkan wars. Transition towards NATO and downsizing of the military entailed the liquidation of this surplus. There is no consensus on the size of the stockpile, though a report by an independent Geneva research project, Small Arms Survey, estimates that the former Yugoslavian states and Albania together hold a surplus of around 130,000 tons of ammunition and 400,000 small arms. The countries are required legally to attempt to sell or donate these weapons before destroying them. Bosnia and Herzegovina must attempt two sales before destruction.
MDI (Montenegro Defense Industry), previously part of the Yugoslavian state conglomerate Jugoimport, is the sole state-backed arms exporter in Montenegro. Zoran Damjanovic is the director of MDI. In 2005 he acted as a representative of Melvale, a Serbian arms company, requesting list of available surplus ammunition from Albania’s MEICO. Damjanovic is also on the board of directors of Tara Group, a Montenegrin arms manufacturer managed by BT International, a Swiss-registered company. In 2006 Dmjanovic was charged for suspected smuggling, after a truck carrying machine guns to the Podgorica airport was stopped and did not have the proper papers. He was not convicted. In 2011 Damjanovic was accused of supplying arms to the Libyan government the previous year. He denied the allegations. Damjanovic confirmed that MDI sold weapons to Seychelles-registered Mosston Engineering, end user Armenia, but insisted that the shipment filled far fewer than 39 flights, 40 tons capacity each, and that the aircraft were “small”, not IL-76s.
Davit Galstyan is an Armenian national and an arms broker operating out of Ukraine, Armenia, and the United Arab Emirates. He is the director of DG Arms Corporation, an Armenian state-backed arms company. Besides DG Arms, Galstyan is affiliated with the companies: Mosston Engineering and Melvale. In 2007 Galstyan acted as a representative of Melvale while purchasing 7 million dollars worth of mortar shells from Albania, presumably on behalf of the Armenian Ministry of Defense. In 2010 Mosston purchased mortar shells from MDI. In 2011, Galstyan brokered a transfer of ammunition purchased from the Albanian state-run arms exporter MEICO to Libyan rebels, violating a UN embargo.
The complex scheme used to cover up this activity is described in a UN report released on March 9, 2013. Later that year, Mosston acted as the buyer of thousands of guided and unguided rockets from Moldovan stockpiles through a Latvian intermediary. In the past, Mosston shared an address in the Seychelles with the dissolved Serbian arms exporter Melvale. The phone number associated with the address is also listed by the US State Department as the contact information of US-based Southern Ammunition, a company formerly involved with the disarmament program in Albania.
Thirty one of the thirty nine cargo flights transporting commodities from MDI Podgorica airport for Mosston in Yerevan were scheduled to land at the civilian and cargo airport of Zvartnots (UDYZ). Instead all 39 landed at the Erebuni military base (UDYE), controlled jointly by Armenian and Russian forces.
V-Bird and Air Highnesses were the two companies that operated the flights between Montenegro and Podgorica in 2010 and 2011 for MDI and Mosston. The two are part of a loose network of Armenian air freight companies, which also includes Southern Airlines, Ayk Air, Skiva Air, and Taron Air. Vagram Symonyan, director of V-Bird and Southern Airlines, has a notoriously bad reputation in the Russian pilot community, the pilots mention poor working conditions, low salaries, and his lack of managerial expertise. During the past five years these companies have shared rotating ownership of a small pool of cargo aircraft, contact information, and management. Sometimes repainted, often changing registration numbers, the planes are known to fly in Sudan, DRC, United Arab Emirates, and Afghanistan, as well as between the Balkans and the Caucasus.
In 2013 the UN reported that in 2011 Ayk Air was involved in violating a UN
arms embargo through the delivery of Albanian ammunition to Libyan rebels. Although registered in Armenia, the companies, pilots, and planes are currently based in UAE.
An IL-76, one that previously flew for Air Highnesses, crashed on landing in the DRC in November 2012. The Armenian crew and over 20 locals on the ground were killed. The plane, flying for a Congolese airline, reportedly lacked a Certificate of Airworthiness.
In 2012 the name of Davit Galstyan, director of DG Arms and a representative
of Mosston Engineering, appeared on at least two, independent sets of documents that purport to reveal grey-area arms trading. The first set indicates a transaction between CPR Impex, Melvale and DG Arms, suggesting Serbian rockets and ammunition were delivered on behalf of Galstyan to the port of Latakia, Syria, in September 2009. The second reveals a plan for secret transfer of rockets and artillery between Ukraine and Armenia, meant to preserve Ukraine’s friendly relationship with Azerbaijan. Both sets of documents are likely fabricated. The motive for fabrication and the source (or sources) behind the leaks are unclear. There are no public records beyond this for Galstyan,
DG Arms or CPR Impex. Galstyan denies the legitimacy of these documents, and any involvement in the Podgorica–Erebuni transfers, for which he was confirmed as the buyer by MDI.
According to an official intermediary of the Armenian Ministry of Defense,
DG Arms Corporation, managed by Davit Galstyan, owns the only arms factory in Armenia. However, the company is not and has never been a part of the Armenian trade registry, nor has it held an office at Amiryan Street 3A, Yerevan, the contact address listed in its trade correspondence. DG Arms is reachable through the phone number and e-mail address in the same documents, but they are not registered to a business or individual in Armenia. The UN group
of experts report states DG Arms violated at least one UN arms embargo when brokering a weapons delivery to Libyan rebels in 2011.