"Our control system is working," asserts Volodymr Bandura, Ukraine's head of arms export controls. "So we are controlling to whom we are delivering, and that we are delivering to the right hands, to the right persons, to the right destinations. And what happens after that, it's very difficult to predict."
And difficult to unravel. Take for example the case of Vadim Rabinovich, one of Ukraine's wealthiest and most-well connected businessmen.
In early 1999, Rabinovich flew to Liberia, Sierra Leone's neighbor to the south.
"I like doing business wherever I can make money," says Rabinovich.
Rabinovich says he was interested in doing business in iron-ore. But he flew to Liberia on the private jet of a known arms trafficker and reputed member of the Ukrainian mafia. Five weeks later, a large shipment of arms, some 68 tons of weapons, was sent legally from Ukraine to the West African country of Burkina Faso and then flown illegally into Liberia, on that same private jet.
"Okay, yes," concedes Rabinovich. "We had a trip to Liberia and then in five weeks something happened. I'm so sorry but I cannot help you. I cannot explain what was going on." They were just showing us the country, what signs of democracy and that's it. Weapons? I have never legally or illegally traded in arms. And I theoretically don't know where to get them."
But international police files obtained by Frontline tie Rabinovich to organized crime, money laundering and a company accused of selling arms. Sources say that the arms trafficker, now imprisoned in Italy and charged with illegal arms sales to Liberia, has fingered Rabinovich for the 68 ton shipment from Ukraine.
UN investigators believe that the weapons were shipped from Liberia to rebel forces in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone ballot and indelible ink. Photo: Peter C. Andersen, Sierra Leone Web
Back in Sierra Leone, surrendered weapons are stacked in UN containers. The country has held elections, but prospects for a lasting peace remain fragile. As the UN investigators found, many of the guns turned in by combatants were old and rusted. That means the best weapons have, most likely, been taken back into the bush, or perhaps they were shipped off to the next arms dealer and the next war zone.