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Media: Secret buyer purchases Leopard tanks from private Belgian stockpile for Ukraine

by Elsa Court and The Kyiv Independent news desk August 8, 2023 4:59 PM 2 min read
Ukrainian soldiers train on a Leopard battle tank in May 2023. (Photo by Serhii Mykhalchuk/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
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Belgian newspaper De Standaard reported on Aug. 7 that a secret buyer purchased 50 Leopard 1 tanks from a private company in Belgium to donate to Kyiv.

The first two Leopard 1 tanks, out of a collection of 50, are being transported to Ukraine.

Before reaching Ukraine, the German-made tanks will be fitted with modern weapons systems in Germany and Italy.  

The tanks come from the stockpile owned by Freddy Versluys, CEO of Belgian defense company OIP Land Systems, who bought 50 tanks a decade ago when the Belgian military sold them to reduce expenditures.

Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder announced in January 2023 that the government wanted to buy the tanks to donate to Ukraine. However, Dedonder said the asking price was "unreasonable," a claim Versluys denied.  

Versluys refuses to say who, or which country the buyer is or how much they paid. So far, only Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands have said they will supply Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine.  

In June, a source from the Dutch parliament told the Dutch broadcasting service NOS that the Dutch government was planning to buy several dozen new Leopard 1 tanks for the Ukrainian military from a Swiss company.

However, Switzerland rejected the export license for the tanks the Netherlands had ordered and blocked the transfer of 96 tanks to Ukraine on June 28. Swiss law does not currently allow the delivery of Swiss weapons to combat zones, even when supplied by an intermediary country.

Due to the "high demand for tanks and long waiting times" for their production in factories, a single tank can have a market value that reaches 500,000 euros, De Standaard reported.

According to Voice of America, Versluys said he purchased the tanks for about 2 million euros ($2.2 million today), of which 33 were usable. The rest require extensive repairs, which Versluys said can range from 75,000 euros ($82,000) to replace asbestos in an engine to 350,000 euros ($383,000) for updating a tank's gunfire control system.

Versluys told Voice of America in February that if Belgium does not buy back the tanks, he was open to the option of selling them to another European country and had "held discussions with several European governments."

Versluys claims he accepted a price under the market value and therefore rejects the accusation that he is "earning heaps of money from the Russian invasion," De Standaard added.  

He told De Standaard that he does not know when the buyer of the tanks expects to deliver them to Ukraine, as it can take up to six months to modernize them.

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