Deal struck to send dozens of German-made Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine
PHOTO CAPTION: Dozens of German-made Leopard 1 tanks and other armoured vehicles, owned by Freddy Versluys the CEO of Belgian defence company OIP Land Systems, who said could help Ukraine if he received export permits from the Belgian regional government of Wallonia and from Germany to sell them, are seen in a hangar in Tournais, Belgium January 31, 2023. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
By Andrew Gray
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Dozens of second-hand Leopard 1 tanks that once belonged to Belgium have been bought by another European country for Ukrainian forces fighting Russia's invasion, the arms trader who did the deal said Tuesday.
The German-made Leopards were at the centre of a public spat earlier this year after Belgian Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder said the government had explored buying back tanks to send to Ukraine but had been quoted unreasonable prices.
The clash highlighted a predicament faced by Western governments trying find weapons for Ukraine after more than a year of intense warfare – arms they discarded as obsolete are now in high demand, and often owned by private companies.
Freddy Versluys, CEO of defence company OIP Land Systems, bought the tanks from the Belgian government more than five years ago.
He told Reuters he had now sold all 50 tanks to another European government, which he could not name due to a confidentiality clause. He said he also could not disclose the price.
Germany's Handelsblatt newspaper reported on Tuesday evening that arms maker Rheinmetall had acquired the tanks and would prepare most of them for export to Ukraine.
The company declined to comment.
"The fact that they leave our company proves that we asked for a fair market price and someone was more than happy to take them," Versluys said in a post on LinkedIn, accompanied by a picture of tanks next to a bottle of Ukrainian vodka.
He said the tanks were now being transported to a factory for a substantial overhaul. Some of the tanks would be used for spare parts while others would be repaired, he said. He estimated it could be four to six months before they were on the battlefield in Ukraine.
A defence source told Reuters that the German government was paying for 32 of the Leopard 1 tanks to be restored and sent to Ukraine and that this was part of a support package for Ukraine that Germany announced at the NATO summit in Vilnius in July.
The German Defence Ministry had no immediate comment.
Several of Kyiv's Western allies agreed earlier this year to send modern Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and also to send older Leopard 1 models.
The Leopard 1 was made by German firm Krauss-Maffei, starting in the 1960s. It is lighter than the Leopard 2 and has a different type of main gun. The models sold by Versluys were last upgraded in the 1990s.
A spokesperson for the Belgian defence ministry declined to comment on the sale of the tanks.
(Reporting by Andrew Gray; additional reporting by Christoph Steitz and Sabine Siebold; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alex Richardson)