BIRN: Blacklisted arms dealer exporting Serbian ammo to US


The BIRN investigative portal said on Monday that a Serbian arms dealer who was blacklisted by Washington is exporting ammunition to the United States.

It said that Companies with ties to arms dealer Slobodan Tesic exported ammunition to six US firms, including one that works with the Pentagon, despite the fact that Tesic was blacklisted five years ago for bribery and violating arms embargos.

“The investigation shows how Tesic, 63, has found a “way around” the US sanctions via two Belgrade-registered companies – Valir d.o.o. and Zenitprom – both of which have seen their revenues grow to tens of millions of euros since US sanctions were expanded to a number of other Tesic proxies in 2019,” it said adding that the two companies exported more than 926 tonnes of Serbian-made ammunition to the US.

“One Zenitprom shipment, in April this year, went to Global Military Products Inc, part of Global Ordnance, which supplies weapons and ammunition to the US Department of Defense and its allies, notably Ukraine,” it said and added that the Pentagon declined to comment.

Marc Morales, the owner of Global Ordnance, said he was not aware of any connection between Zenitprom and Tesic, nor had any connection come up in the due diligence his company performed.

“The company is not on any OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control] list and the affiliations you are alleging were not known or in any formal documents provided to Global Ordnance,” Morales told BIRN. “To my knowledge, nobody from my company has ever met him and Global Ordnance definitely does not do business with him. And to clarify, I have never met him either,” he said.

Tesic did not respond to BIRN requests for comment.

For nearly a decade, Tesic was subject to a United Nations travel ban for violating UN embargo on arms to Liberia; in 2017, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on him, describing Tesic as “among the biggest dealers of arms and munitions in the Balkans” who uses bribery and financial assistance for officials to secure arms contracts. The US expanded the measures in 2019 to a further 11 companies and nine individuals used by Tesic as proxies to circumvent the sanctions.

Some of these firms, however, continue to work with the Serbian state, buying arms from state-run manufacturers – often at preferential rates – for export around the world. Serbia has made reviving the country’s arms export industry a strategic priority and in 2014 Tesic was granted a diplomatic passport by the Serbian foreign ministry, a year after the UN travel ban was lifted.

Zenitprom was founded on May 7, 2018 – a year after Tesic was first targeted by US sanctions – at the Belgrade address Diplomatska Kolonija 14.

Representatives of Zenitprom could not be reached for comment but BIRN said it had identified 13 Zenitprom shipments of small-calibre ammunition to four US companies since November 14, 2020, totalling 698 tonnes. All the ammunition was produced by the state-owned factory Prvi Partizan in Uzice, western Serbia. The latest shipment was sent on April 19 this year to Global Military Products INC, GMP, a Tampa-registered subsidiary of Global Ordnance.