BOGOTA, COLOMBIA, DEC. 11 -- A judicial inquiry by the Antiguan government has concluded that a group of Israeli citizens, including retired senior military officers, conspired to arm and train assassins of the Medellin cocaine cartel on the Caribbean island.
The Judicial Commission of Inquiry in Antigua said it found the Israeli government had no knowledge of the activities or that arms it sold would end up in the hands of drug barons.
But the report, written by British lawyer Louis Blom-Cooper, said irregularities in the arms deal should have alerted Israel Military Industries (IMI), which sold the arms, that the sale was fradulent. Blom-Cooper's report said he was "somewhat surprised by the lack of overt interest" by U.S. law enforcement agencies, saying he had been unable to obtain key bank records in the affair.
The 300-page report, obtained by The Washington Post, is the first investigation to tie together evidence from Antigua, Israel and Colombia on how a shipment of 500 automatic weapons and 200,000 rounds of ammunition, reportedly ordered by the government of Antigua from the government of Israel in 1988, ended up in the hands of one of Colombia's most violent drug barons, Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha.
It concludes that those involved planned to train and arm cartel hit men from the start, with the aid of corrupt government officials in Antigua.
Blom-Cooper was appointed May 16 by the governor general of Antigua and Barbuda. His commission took sworn testimony from dozens of witness, including most of those accused of planning the operation, and had access to government documents in the three countries. The report is scheduled to be made public Saturday by the government of Antigua.
The report names three Israelis as key to the plot: retired Lt. Col. Yair Klein, a counterterrorism specialist and president of Spearhead Ltd., a private security firm; retired Brig. Gen. Pinchas Shachar, an agent for IMI, who served in the Israeli army for 25 years; and Maurice Sarfati, an Israeli melon farmer based in Antigua with close ties to officials there.
Klein was convicted Nov. 29 in Israel on three counts of illegally exporting weapons and his military expertise. He faces a maximum of three years in prison. He admits working in Colombia but says he was training ranchers to defend themselves from Marxist guerrillas.
Shachar lives in Israel and faces no criminal charges. Sarfati is believed to be in Paris.
Contacted last week at his home in Yehud, Israel, Shachar refused comment on the Antiguan report. However, he called the allegations against him "journalistic concoctions."
In 1985, according to Israeli sources, Shachar moved to Miami and formed his own company, called Nova. In May 1990 he returned to Israel and joined a company called Alul, which specializes in arms trading.
Danny Naveh, the spokesman for Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens, rejected the report's conclusion that IMI was guilty of negligence. He said that "if there was any negligence it was not by Israeli Military Industries but by people in Antigua."
The Israeli government initially sought to hide Shachar's identity as the IMI agent in the sale by whiting out his name from a key document, copies of which it turned over to investigators, the report says. But during a meeting with the Israelis, one of the investigators switched the copies for the originals. Later, holding the paper up to the light in his hotel room, he was able to read the name.
The report says Antiguans collaborating with the scheme include Vere Bird Jr., son of Prime Minister Vere Bird Sr. and a former minister of public works; Col. Clyde Walker, commander of the islands' defense force; and shipping agent Vernon Edwards Jr.
Blom-Cooper said he had "no doubt that Mr. Vere Bird Jr. was paid by, or at least with money emanating from, Rodriguez Gacha for the services rendered to the arms transhipment."
As portrayed in the Blom-Cooper report, the affair began in September 1988, when Sarfati, with a failing melon business and some $8 million in debts in Antigua, passed to Antiguan authorities a proposal by Klein's Spearhead Ltd. for a security training school.
"To anyone with the slightest knowledge of armed forces it was obvious that the training school proffered by Spearhead Ltd. was intended . . . to train mercenaries in assault techniques and assassination," the report says.
On Oct. 5, 1988, Col. Walker made a one-day trip to Miami, where he reportedly met with Shachar. A week later, Shachar sent a fax to IMI, saying Walker was seeking prices for Uzi and Galil rifles. On Oct. 23, IMI quoted its prices for the munitions "for the Antiguan army."
On Nov. 9, an Antiguan government end-user certificate, saying the weapons would not be passed on to a third party and bearing the signature of Vere Bird Jr., was faxed from Sarfati's office in Miami to IMI, but IMI rejected it because it was faxed and improperly addressed. On Nov. 14, another certificate was shipped to IMI and the order was approved.
The younger Bird denies signing the documents, a position supported by Blom-Cooper, who says that the documents were a forgery by Sarfati, but that Bird authorized the forgery.
Klein, who was already engaged in training Colombians believed to be tied to drug traffickers, along with Shachar and a third Israeli named Eyal Dror, visited Antigua Nov. 16-19, 1988, the report says.
The Israelis were given free use of a telephone at the defense force headquarters, the report found. In addition to calls to Israel and Miami, phone records show a three-minute call on Nov. 19 to a clandestine number in Medellin, Colombia, although the Israelis denied having made it.
Blom-Cooper says the three visitors, along with Sarfati, Walker, and Vere Bird Jr., spent those three days "occupied in deadly serious talks about a military training school for which a consignment of guns and ammunition had been ordered by IMI." The source cited was Walker's secretary, who said she was in attendance.
Shachar says he withdrew from the deal in November 1988, but Blom-Cooper says the money trail for the arms led directly to him.
In December 1988, IMI sought a down payment of $95,000. The money should have come from Sarfati, the official Antiguan agent, but he was bankrupt and any money deposited in his account would have been seized by the courts, the report says.
A deposit for $95,000 from Manufacturers Hanover Trust in New York was deposited in Shachar's personal account in Bank Hapoalim in Miami, and then passed on to IMI, the report says. On Feb. 10, 1989, the same operation was repeated with $228,705.
Shachar is said to have told Blom-Cooper the money came from Antigua, but would not release his bank records. No records were produced of the government of Antigua making the payments.
"The mystery financier of the gun-running enterprise remains masked," the report says. "And it was decidedly not the government of Antigua."
Following final payment, the guns were shipped from Haifa on March 29, 1989. On April 10, when stories about Klein began to appear in the Colombia press, the report says Klein, Shachar and Dror again arrived in Antigua.
Shachar denies making the trip, a claim Blom-Cooper "utterly rejects" citing documentary evidence, including a signed American Express credit card slip, to the contrary.
Blom-Cooper's conclusion is that, with the true nature of the training school about to be exposed, the Israelis decided to ship the guns on to Colombia, where Klein was working. They scrambled to hire a second boat, the Seapoint, which Colombian investigators say was owned by Rodriguez Gacha, anchored in Puerto Rico. It was hired April 12.
The container of arms arrived in Antigua on April 24, the same day the Seapoint arrived. The lethal cargo was left sitting on the dock for seven hours, then illegally loaded on to the Seapoint, which took it to Colombia, where it was discovered 10 months later, the report says.
Washington Post correspondent Jackson Diehl in Jerusalem contributed to this article.