COPENHAGEN — Two associates of former National Security Council aide Oliver L. North shipped 358 tons of Communist-Bloc assault rifles and other arms to a Pentagon warehouse in the United States last fall, sources here said Thursday.
The weapons apparently were to be transshipped to Nicaragua's contras .
And in an unusual twist, one of the two ships involved in carrying the arms to Defense Department munitions depots in North Carolina slowed its journey and even dropped anchor at sea for a lengthy period. Thus, although the arms had been purchased while a congressional ban on U.S. aid to the contras was in effect, it did not reach American shores until after it had expired.
The Pentagon did not respond Thursday to requests to explain what happened to the arms. It is not known whether the weapons, which left Europe ostensibly bound for Guatemala in late September, ever reached the contras.
It is considered standard practice, however, to equip anti-Communist insurgents such as the contras with Soviet-style weapons, in part so that the guerrillas can use captured ammunition and other material. Indeed, the Defense Department is known to be a large supplier of Soviet AK-47 rifles and other secretly acquired East Bloc weapons to the CIA, which sends them to insurgents around the world.
Details of the North Carolina arms shipment were provided Thursday by Copenhagen businessman Tom Parlow, an executive of Queen Shipping, who played a central role in the deal.
In two lengthy interviews, Parlow told The Times about that venture and a series of other cloak-and-dagger operations by the Panamanian freighter Erria--missions that included a plan to swap guns for as many as five Soviet tanks as well as a mysterious trip to meet seven U.S. Marines off the coast of Lebanon.
As described by Parlow and other sources, the North Carolina operation vividly illustrates how North and his two associates--Iranian-born California businessman Albert A. Hakim and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord--used a multimillion-dollar maze of dummy companies, Swiss bank accounts and ocean ships to carry out secret missions of their choosing.
In addition, it raises new questions about the finances of North's operations: whether the Pentagon paid for the arms, whom it paid and whether it knew it was dealing with North, Secord and Hakim at a time when the Iran-contras link allegedly was still a deep secret.
Finally, the deal offers the clearest suggestion to date--though not proof--that money skimmed from the Iran weapons deals was used for other operations on behalf of the contras, as North has said.
Ship Offered to CIA
All the missions were undertaken at the behest of North, according to U.S. sources, who said that the Marine lieutenant colonel was in complete charge of the Erria and once offered it to the CIA for use in secret operations off the coast of Libya.
But Parlow said the day-to-day operations of the vessel were directed by Hakim and Secord. Hakim was the financial mastermind of the Iran arms sales, while Secord arranged the logistics of the sales and joined in negotiations with Iranian officials over the freeing of U.S. hostages in Lebanon.
Parlow said his company served as a front for the two men, financing the Erria's operations and relaying orders to the crew. But Hakim had actual legal control of the ship and the North Carolina arms deal, Parlow said, while Secord often acted as adviser and second-guesser on the secret projects.
Parlow Admits He Lied
Parlow admitted that he had lied during interviews last month in which he maintained that he owned the Erria and used it only for legitimate business.
"I never owned the ship," he said Thursday. "Hakim directed the ship. He would telephone me and tell me where he wanted it sent."
Further details of the operations may come out in a legal and financial wrangle between Hakim and Parlow that erupted this week in Denmark. On Thursday, Parlow won a Danish court order seizing the Erria, claiming that Hakim still owes Queen Shipping more than $200,000 for expenses incurred while financing the ship's eight months of derring-do under North, Secord and Hakim.
Hakim may be unable to repay the debts, Parlow said, because Swiss bank accounts used to purchase the Erria and repay Queen Shipping for operational expenses may be the same ones that were frozen at the request of the Justice Department, which is probing the Iran-contras affair.
Filed Suit in Denmark
Parlow filed suit in Denmark Thursday against Compagnie de Services Fiduciaires, a Geneva firm that had given Hakim legal power to control the Erria's finances and operations. CSF has organized or controlled a vast array of other shell companies involved in the Iran-contras scheme on both sides of the Atlantic.