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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Probe's Focus Shifts to China

ReutersPascual, right, telling reporters in Kiev on Tuesday that China is a "special concern."
KIEV -- Investigators probing an alleged Ukrainian arms deal with Iraq are now focusing on China's possible role in the transaction, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine said Tuesday.

A team of 13 U.S. and British experts spent a week in Ukraine last month investigating whether the country had sent any Kolchuha radar systems to Baghdad in violation of UN sanctions. In a report made public in Kiev on Monday, the experts said there is a "credible possibility" that Ukraine had sent such radar systems to Iraq through an intermediary.

Ukrainian officials have confirmed that four of the Ukrainian-made radar stations are in China, but inspectors could not verify they had not been transferred to Iraq because Ukraine refused to provide documentation, the report said.

U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual said Tuesday that China was a "special concern" because Ukrainian officials had told the inspectors that a standard clause preventing third-party transfers in a sales contract with China was modified "at China's request."

Ukraine has said the contract included privileged information. It later provided a copy of a clause it claimed was in the contract, but the text reflected little modification, raising suspicions of China's intentions to transfer the Kolchuha system to Iraq.

China on Tuesday flatly denied any involvement in the transaction.

"There is no such question of China transferring radar systems to Iraq," Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said in Beijing. "The Chinese government has strictly implemented the relevant sanctions by the United Nations on Iraq."

Pascual said the United States had not pressed China directly about the deal, but did provide the UN Security Council's Iraq sanctions committee with a copy of the report.

"That will be a forum in which the Chinese have an opportunity to comment on these issues," Pascual said.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry downplayed China's possible role.

"Don't make an elephant out of a fly," said spokesman Serhiy Borodenkov. "We are totally open."

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma visited China earlier this month to drum up support for his request that UN inspectors verify that his government did not transfer radar systems to Iraq.

U.S. authorities say they have verified the authenticity of a recording in which Kuchma is allegedly heard approving a $100 million sale of the sophisticated radar system to Iraq. However, Kuchma has denied the accusation.

The inspectors' report also mentions that an Iraqi trade delegation visited eastern Ukraine where the Kolchuhas are made in June this year. Ukrainian officials denied that any Iraqi military representatives took part, but documents contradicted that, the report said.

Ukraine also sold at least one Kolchuha system to Russia, according to the report -- raising questions about Moscow's possible role in transferring the sensitive technology to Iraq. Pascual could not confirm any details of the Russian transaction, citing Ukrainian objections that the details are proprietary.

Western officials fear the radar system could enable the Iraqis to target U.S. and British warplanes enforcing the no-fly zones in the north and south of the country.