Israeli mercenary Yair Klein, convicted in Colombia of training paramilitary forces, has claimed he was contracted by the CIA to train Colombians for a coup d’etat in Panama, according the El Espectador newspaper.
Klein, who was tried in absentia in 2001 and sentenced to ten years for providing military training to paramilitary group AUC, claims that the CIA hired him to train Colombians on the Caribbean island of Antigua in the 1980s to overthrow the Panamanian government.
The operation, Klein says, was canceled one week before it was supposed to occur, and the US military invaded Panama less than a year later and deposed then-President Manuel Noriega.
After the change of plans, Klein said he proposed that he use the arms intended for the coup – which he claims came to Antigua through the CIA – to create a private security training college, a request he says was denied.
The man he says was responsible for the weapons shipment – Luis Meneses – was then told he could “do what he wanted,”and that the weapons were then brought to Colombia and sold to the Medellin cartel.
Once the US invaded Panama, Klein claims the US intelligence agency tried to cover its tracks by smearing his name with alleged connections to the weapons shipment from the Israeli Ministry of Defense to the Medellin cartel, an event known as the Guns for Antigua scandal.
Klein pled guilty to charges of exporting military equipment without the required licence in a Jerusalem court and paid a fine in 1990.
In the interview, Klein also attributed killings in Colombia to actions of the “Americans.”
“A good portion of the murders that occurred in Colombia are due to the fact that the government permitted the Americans to do what they wanted,” Klein said.
Colombian paramilitary trainings
In the past, Klein has claimed his arrival in Colombia in the 1980’s to train paramilitary groups was undertaken with the approval of Colombian and Israeli authorities.
The former Israeli lieutenant was interviewed by Colombian journalist Olga Behar and claimed he had no idea what he was doing was illegal.
He arrived in Colombia under the impression that he would be training “peasants who wanted to confront guerrillas,” he told Behar.
“That happened with the approval of the Colombian authorities. And after ten years it was concluded that I had done something wrong,” he added.
Klein established private mercenary group Spearhead Ltd in the early 80’s, which allegedly trained and provided weapons to armed forces in Colombia, Lebanon and Sierra Leone, where he was imprisoned for 16 months in 1999 for providing arms to rebels from the now-defunct Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
The Israeli claims his first visit to Colombia in 1988 led to a meeting with senior members of the armed forces and the now-defunct state intelligence agency Department of Administrative Security (DAS).
Upon his second visit, Klein claims he was assured “there was nothing illegal” going on as he was greeted at Bogota’s El Dorado airport by members of the DAS, and carried with him an Israeli permit to conduct training operations.
The mercenary is suspected of training the death squads of the AUC paramilitary group,as well as militias working for Pablo Escobar’s infamous Medellin drug cartel. Klein could neither “confirm nor deny” whether he received drug money for his efforts in the interview with Behar.
Interpol issued an international arrest warrant in 2007 for Klein and two Israeli collaborators on charges of conspiracy and training a terrorist group. He was arrested in Russia soon after, and awaited extradition to Colombia for three years.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) blocked his extradition for fears of his safety in Colombian prison. The Kremlin then decided to return him to his native country in exchange for a Russian prisoner arrested in Israel.
- ‘Los de la CIA ensuciaron mi nombre’ (El Espectador)