U.S. suspends Afghanistan ammunition deal

Image: bullets
This undated image released by the U.S. Army on Thursday, March 27, shows a close-up view of ammunition case stamp in Afghanistan.Us Army / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

A Florida company hired by the Pentagon to supply ammunition to Afghan soldiers sent the troops Chinese gun cartridges that were more than 40 years old, the U.S. military said in documents obtained by Reuters.

The U.S. Army suspended the munitions contractor, AEY Inc. of Miami Beach, from all government contract work. The government also has started an investigation into the privately held company, its president and the ammunition contract.

According to Army documents, AEY and its president, Efraim Diveroli, 22, appear to have knowingly misled the military when they said last year that the ammunition supplied was manufactured in Hungary between 1965 and 1975.

"In fact the majority of the ammunition was manufactured in the People's Republic of China between 1962 and 1974," the Army legal services agency told Diveroli in a letter on Tuesday notifying him of AEY's suspension from all federal work.

If true, AEY would have violated U.S. law that prohibits the acquisition of munitions from Chinese military companies.

The suspension is temporary, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said there have been no reports that the ammunition was unsafe or failed to work properly. He said some of it may not have been used because of its substandard packaging.

But The New York Times reported in Thursday editions that some of the ammunition was more than 40 years old and Afghan officers complained that it was junk.

As ammunition ages, it becomes less reliable and less accurate.

Diveroli's attorney, Hy Shapiro, said Thursday he had not seen the Army's letter and declined further comment. No one answered the door at the Miami Beach apartment listed in Florida state records as Diveroli's.

According to an Army Legal Services memo, AEY began contracting for the Defense and State departments in 2004, and to date has been awarded more than 150 contracts, worth in excess of $200 million.

The main contract, awarded in 2007, was for various types of ammunition for the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. It included ammunition for machine guns, assault rifles, shotguns and pistols.

After questions arose about the origin of the munitions, U.S. Army investigators in January reviewed shipments at an Afghan Army weapons depot. Stamps on munitions in 14 containers showed that the ammunition was manufactured in factories in China, the memo said.

According to the contract, based on federal law, companies doing business with the U.S. government cannot buy any munitions directly or indirectly from a Chinese military company, or any entity that is part of China's defense industrial base.