By Brandon Barrett
Colombia Reports, March 26, 2012
Israeli mercenary Yair Klein claimed his arrival in Colombia in the 1980's to train paramilitary groups was undertaken with the approval of Colombian and Israeli authorities.
The former Israeli lieutenant was interviewed for an upcoming book, "The Klein Case: The Origin of Paramilitarism" by Colombian journalist Olga Behar, and claimed he had no idea what he was doing was illegal. He arrived in Colombia under the impression that he would be training "peasants who wanted to confront guerrillas," he said in the interview.
Klein established private mercenary group Spearhead Ltd in the early 80's, which allegedly trained and provided weapons to armed forces in Colombia, Lebanon and Sierra Leone, where he was imprisoned for 16 months in 1999 for providing arms to rebels from the now-defunct Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
The Israeli claims his first visit to Colombia in 1988 led to a meeting with senior members of the armed forces and the now-defunct state intelligence agency Department of Administrative Security (DAS). Upon his second visit, Klein claims he was assured "there was nothing illegal" going on as he was greeted at Bogota's El Dorado airport by members of the DAS, and carried with him an Israeli permit to conduct training operations.
Klein was involved in the 1989 Guns for Antigua scandal in which Israeli-made arms were shipped through Antigua to the Medellin cartel in Colombia. He pled guilty to charges of exporting military equipment without the required licence in a Jerusalem court and was punished with a fine.
The mercenary is suspected of training the death squads of the AUC paramilitary group,as well as militias working for Pablo Escobar's infamous Medellin drug cartel. Klein could neither "confirm nor deny" whether he received drug money for his efforts in the interview with Behar.
Klein was convicted in absentia in a Colombian court in 2001 on charges of conspiracy and the illegal formation of a paramilitary group, for which he was sentenced to ten years.
Interpol issued an international arrest warrant in 2007 for Klein and two Israeli collaborators on charges of conspiracy and training a terrorist group. He was arrested in Russia soon after, and awaited extradition to Colombia for three years. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) blocked his extradition for fears of his safety in Colombian prison. The Kremlin then decided to return him to his native country in exchange for a Russian prisoner arrested in Israel.
According to Israeli law, as long as Klein was outside of Israel at the time of the extradition request and the crime was committed abroad, he would be eligible for extradition, however it is unlikely Israeli authorities will be willing to hand him over.