CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldovan police have detained seven suspected members of a group that traded firearms and uranium, operating in the separatist Transdniestria region, the former Soviet republic’s interior ministry said on Friday.
“We have documented numerous cases involving shipments of hand grenades, TNT blocks, Kalashnkikov assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher charges and containers with radioactive uranium-235,” Vitalie Briceag, the head of the ministry’s investigations department, told reporters.
Briceag said the group sold Kalashnikovs for $2,000 and RPG charges for 200 euros but provided no details about the alleged uranium deals or the origins of the nuclear fuel.
“We are trying to find out how they acquired (the weapons),” he said.
In May, a Moldovan court convicted three people of illegal trafficking of uranium-235, which can be used in making nuclear weapons. Intelligence services from the United States, Germany and Ukraine were involved in that case.
Transdniestria, a narrow strip of land along Moldova’s border with Ukraine populated by half a million people, broke away from Moldova after a brief war in 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Although unrecognized internationally, it has been de facto independent for the last 20 years and hosts 1,200 Russian peacekeepers.
The Chisinau government has long accused Transdniestria of being a “black hole” for smuggling arms, cigarettes and other contraband, a charge denied by local authorities.
Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov