Thursday, March 19, 2009

US envoy to Albania cleared in Chinese arms probe

Photo: US ambassador to Albania John Withers


The United States said Wednesday that its ambassador to Albania and five staff have been cleared of any wrongdoing in the alleged trafficking of Chinese weapons that surfaced in a newspaper report.In a letter last year to then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, Congressman Henry Waxman said Ambassador John Withers had helped hide illegal Chinese origins of ammunition that a Pentagon contractor bought to supply Afghan security forces.

"At the time, the matter was submitted to our inspector general for review," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Wednesday, reading a statement.
"The inspector general has reviewed all evidence made available and found nothing to substantiate criminal or any other allegations concerning Department of State employees," he said. "The Department of Justice has informed the Office of the Inspector General that these six Department of State employees at Embassy Tirana are not targets or subjects of investigation," Wood added.

"The department welcomes the statements by the Department of Justice and the inspector general and considers this matter closed," Wood said.The spokesman said "Withers and his team performed exactly as we would have expected them to do," adding that the State Department is "proud and grateful for their service." In June last year, Withers denied any involvement in the trafficking of Chinese weapons after allegations of US congressional investigators emerged in a New York Times report.

Seven people were arrested in Tirana after a blast in a military depot in March in which 26 people were killed and 302 were injured. The incident gave rise to suspicions of possible arms trafficking in the country.The New York Times said Withers "met with the Defence Minister Fatmir Mediu hours before the New York Times reporter was to visit the American contractor's operations in Tirana" in a bid to "hide several boxes of Chinese ammunition from a visiting reporter."

The ammunition was "being repackaged to disguise its origins and shipped from Albania to Afghanistan by AEY, a Miami Beach arms-dealing company," the daily said.At the time, AEY was under a contract with the US army as "the main munitions supplier for Afghan security forces" despite US law prohibiting trading in Chinese arms.AEY head Efraim Diveroli, 22, and three other people were charged in June with selling prohibited Chinese ammunition, presented as being of Albanian origin, to the Pentagon, said the Times.

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