A gun once owned by a Delray Beach arms dealer is among those linked to the Paris attacks that killed 130 people, the head of a Serbian arms factory told The Associated Press.
The M92 semi-automatic pistol’s serial number matched one the Zastava arms factory delivered in May 2013 to the family-owned Century International Arms in Delray Beach, said the arms dealer, Milojko Brzakovic.
How the pistol got from Delray to France remains unclear.
Century owner Michael Sucher did not answer calls Thursday. Doors were locked at the company’s Congress Avenue location just south of Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, where TV news trucks were gathering Thursday afternoon.
Employees trickling out of the building to go home declined comment. Sarah Levine, who worked next door, said “I had no idea that there was anything connected with guns or arms dealing in this vicinity.”
Century, a buyer and re-seller of military-grade surplus guns, is one of the largest arms dealers in the United States. Its specialty is buying firearms from overseas and reselling to dealers. The Palm Beach County business imports up to 25,000 guns every year from the Serbian firm alone, the AP reported.
In addition to the Delray Beach location, Century also holds federal firearms licenses in Georgia, Vt., a town of about 4,700 residents about 10 miles from the Canadian border.
The Vermont location is licensed to import guns, build guns and import destructive devices, including very large-caliber guns or armor-piercing ammunition. The company also markets its own brand of ammunition, Red Army Standard, which is manufactured in Cold War-era factories.
This is not the first time that Century Arms has wound up in headlines.
In 2011, The Palm Beach Post detailed how Century Arms has prospered — trading in pistols, sniper rifles and assault weapons, sometimes with the help of “unauthorized brokers” — based on secret diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks, an international organization that publishes secret information.
One secret cable detailed how World War II-era rifles donated during the Cold War made their way illegally from a Guatemalan government warehouse to Century Arms in 2007 for $130 million.
An Israeli arms dealer and frequent middleman for Century Arms helped carry out the illegal transfer of American M-1 rifles, the cables said.
In 1987, John Rugg, a former police officer and longtime Century Arms employee, told a U.S. Senate committee that the company was involved in supplying arms, including rockets and grenades, to the Contras of Nicaragua during the 1980s-era Iran-Contra scandal.
In 2011, the Center for Public Integrity reported that Century Arms’ Romanian-manufactured WASR-10 “has become a favorite of the Mexican drug cartels and in recent years hundreds of them have been traced to crimes in Mexico.”
At least seven of the weapons used or discovered after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris have been identified as being produced by a factory located in central Serbia. Most were manufactured before Yugoslavia broke up in a civil war in the 1990s, and most are modified versions of the Soviet AK-47, sometimes known as the Kalashnikov.
In fact, Century Arms has a history of buying arms from Eastern Europe. In 2004, Italian authorities temporarily halted shipment of 7,500 AK-47s from Romania to Century Arms. And the Center for Public Integrity reported that Century had extensive business dealings in Romania, even before the fall of the country’s communist dictator, Nikolai Ceausescu.
Century Arms sells to individuals or businesses with a federal firearms license, using its website to direct most retail traffic to a network of dealers.
Tom Cash, a former special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administrations’ Florida and Caribbean operations, said that should make it possible for authorities to track down who bought the gun.
But the purchaser can be anybody, he said, because there are no restrictions on who can get such a license.
William Hartung, a policy analyst with the Center for International Policy in New York, agrees there’s no guarantee the gun won’t wind up in the wrong hands, even when purchased by a licensed buyer. “Sometimes, somebody with a legal right purchases it and then they sell it or they lose it,” he said. “There have been examples of that.”
Marc Adler, president of Allan Adler, a Boca Raton consulting firm that specializes in firearms, said taking a handgun out of the country involves reams of paperwork and approval by federal agencies.
“The export of firearms is very heavily regulated,” said Adler, who questions how the gun could have legally left the country. “The only way I think it can happen would be some type of illegal transfer.”
Brzakovic, the Serbian factory official, said all the guns linked to the Paris attacks were delivered legally, including the gun sold to Century Arms.
That gun is a derivative of the AK-47, a military-grade assault rifle. The gun was delivered as a semi-automatic, but it’s unknown if it had been altered to an automatic. The so-called “shortened Kalashnikov” is listed by U.S. arms dealers as selling for about $460 a piece.
The M92 pistol, said Brzakovic, “is a semi-automatic weapon, a hunting and sporting weapon … it cannot fire barrage fire, only single shots … which are legal in America.”
Of the other guns linked to the Paris attack, “One was delivered to Bosnia in 1983, one to Skopje, Macedonia, in December 1987, one to Golubici, near Knin (Croatia) in 1988, one to Zagreb (Croatia) 1987,” he told the AP.
Brzakovic said it would be wrong to accuse his company, Zastava, of selling weapons to terrorists.
“Here’s where the weapons ended, there’s the data. Zastava cannot be blamed for where it went afterward,” Brzakovic said.
But he, too, agreed that an illicit gun deal could have taken place even after arms were delivered legally.
“Wherever there are wars, there are bigger possibilities for abuse and to hide the channels for guns. They end up where they shouldn’t,” he said.
Staff writers Julius Whigham, Gurman Bhatia and researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.