International Weapons Trafficking Ring Exposed in Mauritius

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Africa is a continent awash in guns. It's not the most armed place in the world, but loose regulations have meant Africa is a heaven for people who sell guns and weapons. This week, one country said enough is enough. The tiny Indian Ocean island of Mauritius this week denied an operating license to a couple of gun runners. Mauritius said no to two men associated with jail Russian arms dealer Victor Bout. Kathi Lynn Austin is the executive director of the conflict awareness project. She lead a recent investigation into gun running in Mauritius as well as in South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. How did the island nation of Mauritius become what you describe as an international gun running operation?

Kathi Lynn Austin: Well, the arms traffickers were looking for a place of respectability but also a place that would make it easy for them to do their business. This was an international arms trafficking ring. The tentacle stretch from South Africa to Australia to the United Arab Emirates to the United States. So, an offshore nation which seemed to be one of the best governed nations in Africa. This would provide them with both the infrastructure they needed to launch this gun running operation, but also the cover of respectibility.

Werman: So what kind of courage did it take for a little African island nation to withstand the pressure from gun runners? Was it an easy decision for Mauritius, do you think?

Austin: I think Mauritius felt very much under pressure. Also one of the ministers of the government was involved. His brother was the CEO of this particular company that was looking for this air operations certificate. They were very concerned that this whole issue would implode on the honeymoon island of Mauritius. But none at last, the Mauritius government did the right thing. The Mauritius government said, "Look, we do not want these traffickers on our island. We are going to deny them this air operations certificate and we are going to launch an investigation into the criminal activities. And we are going to cooperate with other countries of the world to uphold our international obligations and try to prevent these kinds of gun runners from taking advantage of our kinds of nations for weapons into other countries, other conflict zones like Somalia, democratic republic of Congo and Syria."

Werman: So the gun runners in questions Sergei Denisenko and Andrei Kosolapov, they are associated with convicted gun runner Victor Bout? Who are they? What do you know about them?

Austin: Sergei Denisenko and Andrei Kosolapov were former lieutenants of Victor Bout's arms trafficking network. Sergei Denisenko is on a US government special designated list. It means that, it is illegal for any American entity to do business with him. Because of his tights to Victor Bout and because of his former arms trafficking activities in Africa. These arms traffickers were going to make a lot of money of the lethal business they were hoping to conduct in conflict zones in busting UN sections. What we did discover is that, there were number of American individuals and companies who are also involved in this particular trafficking network. Their operations could be considered in violation of US laws.

Werman: What is the US Justice Department have to say about that?

Austin: The US government has issued a statement saying, in fact, any American businesses or individuals who are involved with Sergei Denisenko in this illicit trafficking network could be in violation of the US law.

Werman: You know there are something like 15 African countries are at war right now. Why don't more countries of Africa try and put a stop to the arms and weapon dealers?

Austin: Well, this is the point. I'm here in New York to present my findings before the United Nation delegates that are attending the conference for the international Arms trade treaty negotiations and to the world to basically say "Look. Here are very live arms trafficking networks, here are the kinds of techniques they use to carry out their illicit operations. Here are the loop holes they exploit in domestic laws. What we need is a very strong arms trade treaty in place that creates an international regulatory system to curtail the activities of these arms trafficking middle men. So, I'm here in New York, hoping that the United Nations and the governments of the world would do the right thing and come out with a very strong arms trade treaty to regulate and curtail these kinds of activities.

Werman: Kathi Lynn Austin, Executive Director of the Conflicts Awareness Project. Thanks so much.

Austin: Thank you for having me on your show.

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