Venezuela Confiscated Missile Parts at Airport, Launches Investigation

Venezuelan authorities seized the missile parts of three air-to-air missiles that were found in a hanger in Venezuela's main airport. The parts came from Colombia and were supposed to go to Israel.

Caracas, June 7, 2005—Yesterday, the Venezuelan Minister of Defense, General Jorge García Carneiro asserted that confiscation of the components of three Colombian air-to-air missiles in the Simón Bolívar airport in Caracas on Saturday warrants an investigation in cooperation with Colombian authorities and intelligence. The missile components, carrying the shield of the Republic of Colombia, were found by the Disip, the Venezuelan equivalent to the FBI, during a routine examination of the hanger of German airline Lufthansa.

According to a statement released on Monday by the Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office, it was corroborated by the Colombian Air Force that the missile components seized arrived in Venezuela late last month and “were destined for Tel Aviv, Israel.”  The incident was classified by Venezuelan Minister of the Interior and Justice Jesse Chacón as an evident irregularity and a violation of the Customs Law.

The missile components are made of non-lethal electrical material that correspond to the parts of control and navigation of a missile. However, “some of these missile parts contain nitrogen,” said Venezuelan Information Minister Andres Izarra, explaining that it “makes their transport dangerous.” 

The Commander of the Colombian Air Force, General Jorge Ballesteros begged to differ. Ballesteros contended that the Colombian Air Force sent what he referred to as electrical components that “were not dangerous for transport by air because they…do not contain any explosive component.” The Colombian General went on to explain that the components were destined for a company in Israel for strictly maintenance purposes.

Although the warehouse manager employed by Lufthansa was detained for questioning, Chacón assured that since the box containing the components was not open, the airline personnel were unaware of it’s presence. “If it was open…they would have had to have done two things:  one, notify the customs each one of the components that they saw in the box that was open and two notify Darfa, because although it is not an explosive component, it is a weapon,” he stated.

Lufthansa Cargo released a statement assuring that they were fully cooperating with the Venezuelan authorities in the matter.  “This seems to have happened due to transportation of sensitive pieces of freight.  Lufthansa Cargo only transports freight respecting IATA (International Air Transport Association) and government regulations,” the statement read.

Both García and Venezuelan Information and Communication Andrés Izarra clarified that there were three sets of missile components found, not five missiles, as certain media outlets had originally suggested. 

Venezuelan Helicopter Presumed to be in Colombia

General García also announced that the Venezuelan Armed Forces had initiated a special investigation of the Bell Ranger YVO-CBL-9 helicopter that was stolen from the hanger of the Ministry of Interior in Ciudad Bolívar on May 21st. It is the property of the Venezuelan state police of Bolívar.

According to García, after the helicopter was stolen the Venezuelan Armed Forces were unable to detect it’s presence in Venezuelan airspace and hinted that it is presumed that it will be found on Colombian territory.

A special air patrol and radar operation that is taking into account that the helicopter does not have sufficient capacity to fly from Ciudad Bolívar to Colombia in one flight is underway. Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Alí Rodríguez, is currently working with Colombian authorities so that they cooperate in the search and recovery of the helicopter.

The General reiterated that currently Venezuela and Colombia are working in close cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking and the guerrilla.