Deal struck to get Leopard tanks to Ukraine from private Belgian broker


BRUSSELS — Dozens of Leopard 1 tanks could be overhauled and sent to Ukraine after an unidentified buyer purchased the German-made fighting vehicles from a private Belgian dealer.

“I am glad they will finally join the fight for freedom,” the dealer, Freddy Versluys, who is chief executive of the defense company OIP Land Systems, wrote in a LinkedIn post along with a photo featuring rows of tanks in a hanger along with a bottle of “Ukrainian Freedom” brand vodka.

Versluys bought the tanks years ago when the Belgian army sold them as part of cost-cutting measures. Earlier this year, as allies debated if and how to get tanks to Ukraine, Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder said her country was seeking to re-buy the Leopards, but was quoted an “unreasonable price.”

Versluys did not disclose the price paid for the tanks or other details of the deal, but he disputed accounts that he had demanded 500,000 euros per vehicle after purchasing them for 15,000 euros each. “The fact that they leave our company proves that we asked for a fair market price and someone was more than happy to take them,” he wrote on LinkedIn.

The deal seems to end an awkward situation which embarrassed Belgium and raised questions about how so many battle tanks ended up in the hands of a private Belgian dealer and why NATO allies could not get them to Kyiv more quickly.

It was not clear when the tanks, which need major refurbishing, will arrive in Ukraine, or even how many will prove usable.

German arms group Rheinmetall said Wednesday that it was supplying about 30 Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine that were purchased from a Belgian company. Handelsblatt, a German newspaper, reported that many of the Leopards were in such poor condition that they could only be used for parts. The German government has said little about the deal so far.

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Versluys, a Belgian businessman in his 60s, made headlines earlier this year when he posed for the press with dozens of secondhand tanks for sale, just as Western allies were struggling to find weapons to support Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invaders occupying a large swath of the country’s southeast.

In an interview with the Guardian, Versluys said he had “probably the widest private arsenal of tanks in Europe,” including the 50 Leopard 1s, 38 German Gepard tanks, 112 Austrian SK-105 light tanks and 100 Italian VCC2 and 70 M113 armor carriers.

Versluys runs OIP Land Systems, a firm specialized in buying and refurbishing old military equipment, including military wheeled and tracked vehicles, for resale or spare parts.

Russia and Ukraine have scrambled to obtain more weapons, ammunition and fighting vehicles as the war drags into its 18 month with no sign of any imminent major breakthrough on the battlefield by either side.

On Wednesday, a suspicious explosion at a factory in the Moscow region killed at least one person and injured more than 50, according to Russian media. Others were reported missing as emergency workers searched through rubble.

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Officials said that the explosion occurred at the site of the Zagorsk Optical and Mechanical plant, which is a subsidiary of Shvabe a holding company owned by Rostec, a state-controlled industrial manufacturer and defense contractor. Some local officials told Russian media that the explosion occurred at a warehouse at the plant site that had been rented by Pyro-Ross, a pyrotechnics company. The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that Pyro-Ross went bankrupt in April.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met on Monday at the Kremlin with Rostec chief executive Sergei Chemezov.

Also on Wednesday, Russian authorities said they shot down two combat drones in the Moscow region during the previous night and they accused Ukraine of organizing the attack.

Brady reported from Berlin. Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.


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