TEL AVIV (Dec. 2)
An Israel Defense Force reserve officer was convicted by the Jerusalem Magistrates Court last week on three counts of exporting military equipment and expertise without the requisite licenses.
Lt. Col. Yair Klein, who sent arms and military know-how to Colombia and the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, pleaded guilty to the charges related to the shipment to Colombia and will be sentenced on Dec, 27. He faces up to three years in prison.
He had asked the court to add the charge of illegal shipment to Antigua to the indictments related to Colombia, so that he could be sentenced on all four counts together and avoid a further trial. But the court will meet again to hear the Antigua charge. The weapons were shipped in April 1989 from Antigua to Colombia.
An associate of Klein’s, reserve Lt. Col. Yitzhak Shoshani, will be tried later this month on similar charges.
Klein, who is director of Hod Hahanit (Spearhead), a military training and consultant firm, has maintained throughout that he was training guards to protect Colombian farmers from cattle rustlers and guerrillas.
But Colombia’s intelligence service accused Klein of advising the assassins of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan in 1989. The Colombian government issued a warrant for his arrest, but Israel refused to extradite Klein because it has no extradition treaty with Colombia.
In a prepared statement, Klein said he had entered a guilty plea “to put an end to the witch hunt running rampant in some of the press, based on rumors and speculation which are harming the state and me.” He said he had acted “in good faith and in the belief that my actions were within the law.”
The IDF allows reservists and retired officers to engage in military consulting and the international arms trade subject to a Defense Ministry license. The ministry has reportedly authorized 800 Israeli firms to engage in arms trafficking.
The formal charges against Klein specified his work for two mysterious organizations in Colombia, the Cattle-Raisers Association and the Farmers Association, both of which were rumored to be linked to the drug cartel.
Shoshani is charged with having been Klein’s go-between with the Colombians.
Judge Miriam Bernstein found Klein guilty of negotiating without a license to provide military training to the Cattle-Raisers Association.
He was also found guilty of visiting Colombia on two occasions in 1988 to provide military training without a license to members of the Farmers Association; and exporting, without license, ammunition belts, night-fighting equipment and detection apparatus to protect air strips.