Potential $30 Million International Arms Deal Plays Out in Eureka, Missouri

A Missouri doctor and a limo driver sought to sell millions in arms to Ukraine, according to The New York Times

Oct 7, 2022 at 12:44 pm
click to enlarge A street in Ukraine, where houses, vehicles and other structures have been destroyed to the ground.
John Owen Nwachukwu VIA FLICKR
A suburb of Kyiv that was destroyed during the Ukraine-Russian war.

International arms deals could be taking place right here in St. Louis, according to an October 6 article published in the New York Times.

In the piece, “She’s a Doctor. He Was a Limo Driver. They Pitched a $30 Million Arms Deal,” the national newspaper featured Martin Zlatev and Heather Gjorgjievski, who are based in Missouri. They are part of an uptick in international private arms deals over the past few months.

According to court documents obtained by the Times, the two sought to sell $30 million worth of rockets, grenade launchers and ammunition to Ukraine through an intermediary business, BMI US LLC, which is located in Eureka. One deal, for example, would have allegedly exchanged $25 million from the Ukrainian government for 2.2 million rounds of U.S. ammunition. The bullets would have been flown to Poland and then transported to Ukraine.

Many of the proposed deals featured middlemen in other countries who would drive the supplies across country lines to Ukraine. Zlatev and Gjorgjievski are also accused of skirting export laws. In one potential deal, the two provided Bosnia and Bulgaria with falsified documents to avoid those countries' export bans to Ukraine.

Zlatev previously worked in the limousine industry, but he turned to arms dealing in December 2021 after the pandemic decimated business travel. Gjorgjievski is a doctor.

Since the start of the Ukraine-Russian war, U.S. restrictions on private arms deals have loosened, according to the Times. During the first four months of 2022, the State Department allowed over $300 million in private arms deals to Ukraine — a steep increase from $15 million in all of 2021.

The Biden administration has sped up the approval process for private arms sales, which normally requires weeks. Zlatev told the Ukrainian defense ministry that his application took only seven days instead of 60.

But the fast-tracked process has come with its issues.

“Weapons sold through private brokers are far more likely to end up on the black market and resurface in the hands of American adversaries, according to government advisers and academics who study the trade,” journalist Justin Scheck of the Times wrote. “Recent experience in Afghanistan and Syria shows that, without strict tracing policies, weapons can end up with terrorist groups or hostile military forces.”

When approached by the Times at his house, Zlatev said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Richard El-Rassy, a lawyer for Zlatev’s company, clarified that the goal was “to facilitate potential defense trade transactions with allied foreign nations.”

El-Rassy later backtracked the statement when questioned about the false documents, noting that “the deal was off,” according to the Times.