A typing error by Maltese shipping agents in a 2009 arms sale from Italy to Libya yesterday attracted criticism from the Italian disarmament NGO Rete Italiana per il Disarmo, which questioned the seriousness of the EU’s arms control.

The NGO yesterday gave details of the shipment of almost €8 million worth of small arms from Italy’s Fabbrica D’Armi Pietro Beretta to the Libyan government in which Malta was used as a transit point.

The NGO said it had managed to unveil this deal only following the mistake by the Maltese shipping agents and the reaction by the Maltese government to “wash its hand from this deal”.

Government officials last week scrambled to clear Malta’s name, after an EU report surfaced claiming that Malta in 2009 had exported more than €79 million worth of arms to Libya.

The government insisted with The Times that Malta only issued licences as a transit point according to EU rules and that these arms had never actually touched Malta’s soil.

However, the Italian Ambassador later clarified that Italy during that year had only exported €8 million worth of small arms (pistols and rifles, including hunting rifles) to Libya.

When faced with the discrepancy, the government turned to the local shipping agent which declared the value of the deal as being just shy of €80 million. Agents W.J. Parnis England admitted they made a typing error and added an extra 0 to the original value of €7,936,900 worth of arms which then read as €79,369,000.

However, Rete Disarmo’s director Francesco Vignarca yesterday said that without the Maltese mistake no one would have known the true details of this shipment from the official EU documents.

“It seems that if the shipper puts down the wrong numbers this is taken at face value by Malta and by the EU. This is very bad. We only know what is happening in the EU arms market on the basis of official reports.

“And if this is how the reporting is made, then how can we trust it?” he asked.

“If this is what is happening in the official and legal arms trade, I can only imagine what is happening in the illegal arms trade,” Mr Vignarca said.

Giving details of the 2009 shipment, the Italian NGO yesterday said the 16.5 tonne order was put in four sealed containers in Brescia and comprised some 7,500 PX4 Storm pistols, 1,900 CX4 semi-automatic rifles and 1,800 M4 Super 90 shotguns.

The order was placed by the Gumhouria Bank in Tripoli in tandem with the purchasing depart­ment of Gaddafi’s General People’s Committee for General Security. The arms were shipped on a vessel called the Holandia with the involvement of UK-based Brointermed Lines, the Valletta-based shipping agent W.J. Parnis England and the Tripoli-based agent Germa Shipping & Stevedoring. Malta had just transit involvement in this deal although all was above board as no sanctions against arms exports to Libya were in place in 2009.

The EU has now imposed an arms embargo against the Libyan regime together with an asset freeze on Colonel Gaddafi and top members of his regime.

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