By: Noura Wazani
Jordanian officials denied on Tuesday a report charging that Russian crime syndicates and military officers have used Royal Jordanian RJ Airlines cargo facilities in illegal operations.
The report, published by the NBC News on April 9, claimed customs and Royal Jordanian (RJ) officials in addition to foreign diplomats were bribed to collaborate with the crime lords in facilitating weapons and drug smuggling operations.
A senior official at the Jordanian Customs Department, who requested to remain unnamed, stated that "the report is more likely baseless," refusing to comment any further.
A source at Jordan's interior ministry told Albawaba.com on condition of anonymity they "have no idea about the report, and when they stand on facts, an investigation will be immediately opened since the issue affects national security."
RJ officials were not available for comment.
Quoting CIA officials, the report said that the planes were cleared for transit under diplomatic cover originating from a Spanish-speaking embassy.
According to the NBC's report, a CIA official close to the investigation said the Russians "are using diplomatic authority to get that stuff in and if they're not using a [diplomatic] pouch, they're using diplomatic authority to clear the shipment. This is a big operation. There are a lot of people involved - it's literally an industry."
The CIA officials refused to specify which embassy was involved, said the report.
CIA DIVULGES OPERATIONS' DETAILS
The intelligence officials told NBC News the Russian-built IL-76 cargo planes take off from various airstrips in Russia and Ukraine laden with anti-aircraft missiles, small arms and ammunition.
The report claims that the planes, roughly the size of Boeing 707s and a mainstay of the modern cargo industry, stop in Amman to refuel then they bypass normal Jordanian customs with the help of corrupt foreign diplomats and bribed local officials.
After crossing the Atlantic, the cargo jets use remote landing strips or parachute air-drops to deliver their cargo to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The guerrilla group is challenging the authority of the US-backed Colombian government, and its guerrillas provide security to Colombia's cocaine cartels.
The planes, according to the report, then return loaded with regular shipments of up to 40,000 kilograms of cocaine.
Some of this is distributed as payment for the arms to the diplomatic middlemen in Amman.
The report alleged that the majority of the cocaine shipments continue on to Russia and Ukraine, where it feeds the growing appetite for the drug, or is sold in other lucrative markets in Europe and the Persian Gulf.
The rest is flown back to the former Soviet Union for sale there, in Europe and in the Persian Gulf. The repot quoted CIA officials as saying that such operations threaten to overwhelm the Colombian government and turn the U.S.-backed fight against the Colombia cocaine cartels into a losing proposition.
While most of the weaponry goes directly to Columbian guerillas, the report went on to say, a smaller amount is parceled off to other guerrilla groups.
"Among them is Hizbollah, the Iranian-backed movement best known for its guerrilla activities in southern Lebanon.
"US intelligence officials say the group has set down roots among the Arab immigrant communities of Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil and frequently uses legitimate business operations to cover illegal arms transfers" the report added.
MSNBC.com includes the full text of the report.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)