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World March 28, 2008
Yair Klein: Russia's "Other" Viktor Bout
Weapons, Cocaine, Israelis And Oligarchs By Yasha Levine Browse author Email
Page 2 of 4

In the mid and late 80s, Klein made a number of trips to colombia to arm and train local drug cartel militias. These militias formed the basis of the right-wing paramilitary death squads who squared off against the FARC guerillas (who were at the time being armed by Klein’s Russian-Jewish competitor, Viktor Bout) and sometimes the colombian government. One of Spearhead’s Colombia employees, Lt. Col. Amatzia Shuali, later explained the company’s role in colombia to American public television: "Yair mentioned the Contras. I think here it’s the same thing: the Americans won’t interfere directly. We are willing to do it." (Klein maintains that Bogota was aware of his business activities.)

Klein's training activities had a big and bloody impact on colombia. Local human rights activists accuse Klein of singlehandedly turning inept cartel goons into highly efficient death squads. Bogota, which at first turned a blind eye to the right-wing militias, were forced to finally take action when government officials started getting knocked with alarming regularity and professionalism. In 1989, the shit hit the fan when a promotional video showing Klein and other Spearhead employees training drug cartel militias was leaked to the public, causing a PR disaster for Klein—and for Israel. Spearhead was operating under an Israeli government license, putting Israel on the hook. A subsequent investigation by the colombian government exposed Klein's ambitious plans to set up a "freedom fighter" training camp on the island of Antigua. Along with a diploma, every graduate would be sent back to colombia with his very own machine gun.

Klein and several other former Israeli officers fled as they were charged in colombia. The government of Israel acknowledged Klein’s activities and punished him with fines. While Klein got away with a slap on the wrist, one of his associates was discovered dead not long afterwards, shot and stuffed into the trunk of his car, after he’d complained of being tailed by Mossad agents. It appears as if this associate took the fall for Klein’s operation.

But even all this bad press didn't put a damper on Spearhead's activities. In the mid 90s, Klein was reported to have operated in the lucrative and gory business of blood diamonds: Sierra Leone and Liberia. The details, as always, are murky and hard to verify, but one of Klein’s few known transactions in Africa involved an attempt to trade a military helicopter in exchange for access to a Sierra Leone diamond mine. He was later arrested in Freetown on charges of supplying the rebel Revolutionary United Front with weapons and was served a death sentence. He got out in 16 months, cleared of all charges. (It's rumored that he was sprung out of prison in a joint Israeli-American black op.)

Yair Klein

Klein in some third world jail

His most recent deal, involving armored vehicles, brought him to Moscow in the summer of 2007, and from there, to jail, where he’s been sitting ever since.

* * *

Over his long and extraordinary career, Klein has always been able to count on powerful friends to get him out of trouble. But something had changed by the time of his latest arrest.

From the moment he was dragged to a Moscow prison, the Israeli government has treated Klein as if they’d washed their hands and wanted nothing more to do with him. The Israeli embassy in Moscow refused to provide Klein with even the most basic citizen services: no embassy representatives came to visit him in jail, nor was he provided with an interpreter. At the appeal hearing, Klein claimed unfair treatment, including unlawfully restricted access to the telephone, newspapers and his attorney.

According to his attorney Tzivin, Klein believes the CIA is to blame for his predicament. "It’s possible America is leaning on Israel to give him up to the colombians so they could have a trophy in the War on Drugs," explained Tzivin. Israel, which relies heavily on American aid, may have agreed and cut Klein loose as a favor to the CIA and the DEA. Tzivin was adamant that Israel would never otherwise sit back and allow Russia to extradite the Israeli war hero.

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Yasha Levine is an editor at The eXile. You can contact him at

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