Seized Il-76 tracked back to Kazakhstan

AN extensive investigation into the tangled web of shell companies that were behind the Il-76 seized in Bangkok (Thailand) for arms running, has tracked its owner back to Almaty (Kazakhstan).The cargo aircraft and crew were detained last year by the Thai authorities after a tip-off from US intelligence agencies. On board were 35 tons of explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, surface-to-air missiles and other weaponry picked up from North Korea and destined for…which is where the trail grows murky. The crew and manifest claimed the cargo to be “oil industry spare parts”.Research uncovered layer upon layer of suspiciously new and previously unknown companies and an extremely elaborate flight path. Starting in Baku (Azerbaijan) it first flew to Al-Fujairah (UAE) and Bangkok before taking on its cargo in Pyongyang (North Korea). It then returned to Bangkok where it was then held. If it had been allowed to continue on its journey it would have continued to Colombo (Sri Lanka), then Al-Fujairah again, on to Kiev, where it would double back to Tehran (Iran) to offload and then ending up in Podgorica (Montenegro): in total, a distance of over 24,500km.The web of companies is just as tortuous. Overseas Trading FZE, a leasing company based in Sharjah (UAE) and owned by Svetlana Zykova, leased the Il-76 to a Georgian firm, Air West, owned by Levan Kakabadze. Air West in turn leased the aircraft to SP Trading, a company that was created by Yury Lunyov only weeks before the deal was set in motion. SP Trading charted the aircraft to the Hong Kong-registered Union Top Management (UTM). UTM was also only created a month previously. The founder of UTM – Dario Cabreros Garmendia of Spain – cannot be found nor can the North Korean company that sourced the weapons.Lunyov claims that another company – the Ukrainian Aerotrack – had responsibility for chaperoning the shipment from North Korea to Iran and that it was Aerotrack that originally falsified the charter agreement and packing list to suggest the freight was the spare parts.No Aerotrack has ever been at its listed address and its main contact’s – Victoria Doneckaya – telephone number is a private residence that has never heard of her or Aerotrack.In fact, all the companies’ owners (at least, those that could be found) – Zykova, Kakabadze and Lunyov – deny ever knowing what the shipment was. However, they all share one connection: Alexander Zykov, husband to Zykova and known associate of Lunyov.Zykov owns East Wing a Kazakhstani airfreight company. It was his crew that were detained. Companies and aircraft belonging to Zykov are known to have been involved in arms trafficking in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Zykov claims that the crew were on temporary leave when they were caught.Friends and family of the crew say that working for Zykov is well paid but in return the crew must ask no questions of the shipments and be prepared to fly dangerously ill-maintained aircraft into conflict zones, such as the Sudan and Somalia.A friend and once fellow pilot of one of the crewmembers – Mikhail Petukhov – said: “It’s not easy working for [East Wings]. For one thing, their planes are old, so the flights are dangerous. And it also means being ready to break pretty much every aviation law on the books. But it’s work, and they pay well,” he said.An engineer who regularly works on Zykov’s aircraft said: “You get paid to do the flight, and you don’t ask any questions about what’s inside the boxes.”

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