Malta issued four licences to export a total of over €79 million worth of small arms to Libya in 2009, according to an EU Council report, but the government has specified that, in fact, the island did not sell any weapons to Tripoli.

A government spokesman said last night the weapons in question actually belonged to an Italian-licensed company that used Malta only to transit the shipment. He said no arms destined to Libya “touched” Maltese soil because the operation was conducted on the high seas.

“Following our investigations, it seems the country of origin of the products in question was Italy and did not touch dry land. The end user was the government of Libya as confirmed by the Italian Embassy in Tripoli. On this basis, authorisation for transit was issued by Malta while Customs allowed transit. Malta does not have any local establishment that caters for the manufacturing of arms,” the spokesman said.

Asked to clarify why Malta had to issue an export licence once the island was not exporting anything but was only acting as a transit point, the spokesman said that, according to the Customs Department, once Malta was the last EU member state from where the shipment was to be exported, the island had to issue a “transit licence” according to EU rules.

The 12th Annual Report Defining Common Rules Governing Control of Exports of Military Technology and Equipment, issued last month, indicates the EU granted more than €160 million worth of licences for the export of small arms and electronic jamming kits in 2009.

The report shows numerous EU member states granted such licences for small arms exports to Tripoli. Malta was mentioned as the member state with the highest value of arms exports.

The four Maltese licences – worth a total €79,689,691 – involved “smooth-bore weapons with a calibre of less than 20mm, other arms and automatic weapons with a calibre of 12.7 mm (calibre 0.50 inches) or less and accessories, and specially designed components”, according to the report.

Among the member states with high value of exports in this category are Belgium (€18 million) and Bulgaria (€3.7 million), although other countries, including Germany, France, Italy and Portugal, made similar exports. Libya is being accused of using such weapons against its own people.

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