Belgian arms dealer tangles with minister over tanks for Ukraine

Belgian arms seller tangles with minister over tanks for Ukraine

TOURNAI, Belgium, Feb 1 (Reuters) – Freddy Versluys doesn’t like being labeled an arms seller. However he has a big warehouse stuffed with used tanks on the market.

Standing subsequent to dozens of German-made Leopard 1 tanks and different army automobiles in a chilly warehouse in japanese Belgium, Versluys careworn that he’s the CEO of two protection firms with a variety of actions corresponding to making sensors for spacecraft.

However a part of his enterprise can be shopping for and promoting weapons. And it was the tanks that introduced him into the highlight in latest days, when he engaged in a public battle with Belgian Protection Minister Ludivine Dedonder over the opportunity of sending them to Ukraine.

Whereas different Western nations have pledged in latest weeks to ship fundamental battle tanks to assist Ukraine repel a Russian invasion, Belgium has not joined the group, primarily for one motive: It has no tanks left. She bought the final of them – a batch of fifty items – to Versluys’ firm greater than 5 years in the past.

Requested why he purchased the tanks, Versluys, a silver-haired man in his mid-60s, mentioned it was his firm’s enterprise mannequin — shopping for undesirable army tools within the hope that another person would need it sooner or later.

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“There are nonetheless international locations on this planet which have these Leopard 1 tanks. So there may be at all times an choice to promote spare components or promote extra tanks,” he mentioned.

However he added: “After all, it is a gamble… We would should take them out tomorrow (or) 10 years later they could nonetheless be there.”

Dedonder mentioned the federal government had explored the concept of ​​shopping for again the tanks and sending them to Ukraine. Nonetheless, she described the quoted costs as “unreasonable” and “extraordinarily excessive”. Tanks bought for €10-15,000 every are being provided on the market for €500,000 regardless of not being purposeful, she mentioned.

The rift highlights the predicament Western governments face as they scramble to seek out extra weapons for Ukraine after practically a 12 months of intense warfare — weapons they scrapped as out of date at the moment are in excessive demand and lots of at the moment are within the arms of personal firms.

Dedonder didn’t identify Versluys’ firm OIP Land Methods in her accusations. However Versluys is certain he’s her goal. Dedonder declined an interview request.

Versluys took the bizarre step of difficult the minister’s claims, providing a uncommon perception into the workings of a agency that always prefers to maintain a low profile.

Versluys mentioned his firm purchased 50 tanks for about 2 million euros and solely 33 had been usable. This may imply a unit value of 40,000 euros for 50 tanks or some 60,600 euros for 33.

He mentioned its sale value could possibly be anyplace from just a few hundred thousand to nearly one million euros, however that would come with work to change the tanks, which he mentioned could possibly be very costly.

Changing the system that controls the firing may value 350,000 euros per tank, changing asbestos within the engine may value 75,000 euros, he mentioned. Every tank needed to be assessed individually.

“We nonetheless have to have a look at what their precise situation is and what we’ve to spend on them to make them appropriate,” he mentioned.


As a part of his public offensive, Versluys gave journalists excursions of his warehouse on the outskirts of the provincial city of Tournai. It resembles a army hypermarket, stuffed with rows of Leopard 1 tanks in dusty inexperienced and black camouflage and plenty of different army automobiles, together with cabinets stacked with spare components and piles of straps.

In its gross sales presentation, Versluys additionally factors out that refurbished Leopard 1 tanks could possibly be prepared for the battlefield inside months – a lot sooner than the brand new fashions ordered right now, which is able to take years to supply.

The Leopard 1 is the predecessor of the Leopard 2 tanks, which Germany, Poland, Finland and different international locations agreed to ship to Ukraine final month. It’s lighter than the Leopard 2 and has a unique sort of fundamental gun. The fashions within the Versluys warehouse had been final modernized within the Nineteen Nineties.

Yohann Michel, an analyst on the Worldwide Institute for Strategic Research suppose tank, mentioned the Leopard 1 tanks won’t be as priceless on the battlefield as their successors.

However he mentioned they might nonetheless be helpful in taking up older Russian tanks and supporting infantry models, particularly in the event that they had been rebuilt to a excessive customary.

If Belgium doesn’t purchase the tanks, one other nation may purchase them for Kyiv. Versluys mentioned he had mentioned the likelihood with a number of European governments.

Final 12 months, Britain purchased 46 infantry combating automobiles from his agency for Ukraine and despatched engineers to work across the clock to restore them, Versluys mentioned.

Nonetheless, any export of Leopard 1s would require approval from the Walloon area of Belgium, the place the corporate relies, and from Berlin, because the tanks had been manufactured by the German agency KMW.

Versluys is a no-nonsense retailer that lists the names, mannequin numbers, and costs of many items of army tools. Earlier than beginning his personal enterprise, he labored as an engineer within the Belgian military.

Whereas he would not like being labeled an “arms seller,” he mentioned the gun enterprise is best than its repute: “Opposite to what individuals say, it is a fairly civilized market.”

Reporting by Andrew Grey; Edited by Nick Macfie

Our requirements: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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