In early 2007, after winning a $300 million U.S. Army contract to equip Afghanistan with munitions, Miami Beach arms dealer Efraim Diveroli, age 21, went scavenging in Albania. There he subcontracted Ylli Pinari, head of that Balkan country's state-run arms agency, to fill the order from derelict stockpiles.
Pinari and Diveroli partnered to ship the order to Afghanistan. After U.S. authorities looked into the deal -- which was illegal because the weapons came from China -- they arrested Diveroli, who pleaded guilty last fall to illegal arms sales. He awaits sentencing.
Now a press report, interviews, and documents obtained by New Times indicate the Miami Beach youngster might have been involved in an underworld of terrorism.
It all began March 15, 2008, when an Albanian stockpile exploded, rattling windows in neighboring countries and destroying a village. According to newspapers in the Balkans, Pinari was charged with mass murder over the blast.
This past November 30, a dissident newspaper in Albania, Gazeta Tema, alleged Pinari had sold surface-to-air missiles to Hezbollah around the time he became Diveroli's point man.
Indeed, in secretly recorded cell phone conversations described in the New York Times, Diveroli had said of Pinari: "either he's the mafia or the mafia is controlling him." He claimed the mafia "went up higher to [Albania's] prime minister [Sali Berisha]," but explained, "I have to deal with [Pinari]. The U.S. government is expecting the products."
It's unclear whether the Hezbollah deal happened. But if it did, Pinari -- and by extension Miami Beach's Diveroli -- are far worse than anyone suspected. While helping the 21-year-old South Floridian scam America, Pinari might have also been supporting terrorists.
Gjerg Thanasi, who broke the news for Gazeta Tema, sent New Times copies of letters and contracts to substantiate the missile deal. Two letters -- written in pidgin English -- from March 2006 are addressed to the Iranian and North Korean governments. In them, Pinari, on behalf of Albania's government, asks to buy $4 million worth of SA-16 and SA-18 shoulder-fired missiles with a 3,500-meter range.
(In the letter to Iran, he also asks for a cheap way to transport "1000 kg" Iranian explosives that seem to have already been ordered.)
Pinari's Albanian arms agency doesn't appear to have gotten missiles from North Korea or Iran. Instead, Gazeta Tema reported, the state-run agency bought two shipments of launchers and missiles from Ukraine and resold them to a front for Hezbollah.
A contract included in the Gazeta Tema documents confirms at least one missile shipment worth $13,240,000 from Ukraine to Albania. That deal was brokered by an Israeli defense firm, Elite Alpha Ltd. That company's CEO was accused in a UN report of selling military trucks to the Ivory Coast, despite an embargo against the African country.
And, according to a 2005 Times of London report, Pinari's arms agency cooperated with an unnamed Israeli firm in smuggling arms to genocidal Congolese rebels.
In the documents provided by Gazeta Tema, another contract between Pinari and Marwan K. Haddad -- representative of a Beirut company, International Contracting and Enterprise -- suggests the Albanians shipped military product to Lebanon.
Citing Israeli intelligence, Gazeta Tema reported, "The Lebanese company served as a cover for Mountamat Al-Jihad Al-Islam, a branch of the Hezbollah organization."
But the Lebanese contract provided by the Albanian newspaper is missing pages. It's unclear if missiles were being transacted. In an interview, Thanasi said he saw the full contract, and it was for these missiles. "There were hundreds of pages [in Pinari's files]... I lacked time to scan everything," he explained. "But the pages should still be in the archives of our Ministry of Defense. I don't think they've managed to destroy them."
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Albania became a member of NATO last year. But John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense think tank in Alexandria, Virginia, says a black-market transfer of weapons to Hezbollah would be "business as usual" in the country. "I find nothing implausible about this," he says.
It's unclear what effect these allegations might have on Diveroli and two associates -- David Packouz and Alexander Podrizki -- who have also pleaded guilty to arms-related charges and await sentencing. But they will likely come into the public eye this September 14 when a fourth defendant, an Uzi maker from Utah named Ralph Merrill, is scheduled for trial.
-- Penn Bullock