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Albania News: |
Ancient wreck hunt in once forbidden sea
Posted on Wednesday, February 04 @ 13:38:19 PST by classiclady
Published by ACLIS Feb.4, 2009
SARANDA, Albania: Once Europe's most forbidding coast, this sparkling stretch of the Ionian Sea is slowly revealing lost treasures that date back 2,500
years and shipwrecks from ancient times.
Over the past two summers, a research ship carrying U.S. and Albanian experts has combed the waters off southern Albania inch by inch, using scanning equipment and submersible robots to seek ancient wrecks. In what organizers say is the first archaelogical survey of Albania's seabed, at least five sites were located, which could fill in blanks on ancient shipbuilding techniques.
The project would not have been even imaginable just 18 years ago, when the small Balkan country was still ruled by Communists who banned contact with the outside world. The brutal regime pockmarked the countryside with more than 700,000 bunkers, against a foreign invasion that never came. Instead, the Communists were toppled after a student-led revolt in 1990, which opened Albania to the world.
"Albania is a tremendous untapped (archaeological) resource," said U.S. archaeologist Jeffrey G. Royal from the Key West, Florida-based RPM Nautical Foundation, a nonprofit group leading the underwater survey. "With what we've discovered until now we may say that Albania is on a par with Italy and Greece."
The latest expedition has revealed traces of four sunken Greek ships dating from the 6th to the 3rd centuries B.C., while another three suspected sites have still to be verified. In comparison, the 2007 season netted signs of just one ancient wreck.
"The discoveries are very important because of the lack of properly documented objects from that period," said Andrej Gaspari, a leading Slovenian underwater archaeologist who was not involved in the project. "The only ships found and documented from that time belong to the Western Mediterranean and Israel ... so our knowledge on the technology used for construction of ships is more or less limited."
During ancient times, Albania stood on an important trade route, receiving traffic from Greece, Italy, north Africa and the western Mediterranean. That history shows in what Albanian mission coordinator Auron Tare called "a real underwater treasure trove" discovered during the six-week season that ended in August 2008.
A 20-inch-long (50-centimeter-long) pottery jar, or amphora, used to transport wine and olive oil, and a smaller version found 260 feet (78 meters) deep were probably made in the southern Greek city of Corinth, in the 6th or early 5th centuries B.C. Both were recovered from a merchant ship that sank 1.8 miles (three kilometers) off shore. Albanian archaeologist Adrian Anastasi said if the 6th century B.C. dating is confirmed, it would be only the fifth of its kind found in the world.
Other highlights included a 4th century B.C. amphora and roof tiles, a north African jar from the 1st to 3rd centuries A.D. and a Roman stone ship's anchor of the 2nd-1st century B.C. The team, operating off the southern port city of Saranda, also located more than 20 unknown 20th-century shipwrecks.
Anastasi said what was unique in the 2008 season was the discovery of the fired clay tiles, which appeared to be part of an entire sunken shipload.
"A wreck with a whole shipload of tiles has never been found before," Anastasi said. "The number of tiles and the way they were lying clearly shows the ship is below them."
Anastasi said he had unearthed the same type of large tiles which measure 29 by 20 inches (73 by 52 centimeters) during excavations on land at the ruins of ancient cities in western Albania. He said the ship seemed to have been loaded on the nearby Greek island of Corfu and possibly foundered on its way to a Corinthian colony in Albania.
To protect the wrecks from looting, the team is keeping their precise sites secret.
"I'd say if all the material we discovered was excavated you would need a new museum to put it in," said mission leader George Robb. "We've scanned only 84 square miles (217 square kilometers) until now."
Over the next five years, RPM and the Texas-based Institute of Nautical Archaeology plan to scan the whole 220-mile (354-kilometer) shore from the southern border with Greece to Montenegro in the north. Each day of work costs an estimated $25,000, covered by RPM funds.
Once the scanning project is finished, RPM and the INA will discuss the prospect of properly excavating the wrecks using robot submarines and divers, Auron Tare said.
Indicted South Florida weapons dealer Efraim Diveroli keeps making millions from you and me.
By Penn Bullock
On March 15, 2008, a fireball shot into the midday sky over Albania's capital of Tirana. The blast echoed 100 miles away in Macedonia and Kosovo. its force was comparable to that of a small nuclear weapon. But this wasn't atomic. It was an accident at an arms depot, where poor villagers had been hired to handle old ammunition and artillery shells. The explosion killed up to 26 people and injured hundreds. The village of Gerdec was obliterated.
Three men were arrested for mass murder in what local media dubbed "Albania's Hiroshima." Two of them were alleged accomplices to a 23-year-old Miami Beach-based arms dealer named Efraim Diveroli, who faces trial later this year on 83 counts of fraud and conspiracy for procuring Chinese-made
ammo in Albania and selling it to the Pentagon.
A mugshot of 22-year-old gun merchant Efraim Diveroli after his arrest on drunk driving charges on Miami Beach on March 5.2008
The charges may be hard to prove, though. A potential lead witness in the case, Kosta Trebicka, died mysteriously in September. His body was found bloodied and sprawled across a dirt road in eastern Albania, some 50 yards from his slightly dented SUV. Trebicka had recorded a tape (listen to it at BrowardPalmBeach.com) in which Diveroli said corruption in that country "went up... to the prime minister and his son."
Indeed, last week, federal prosecutors retreated, allowing the return of $4.3 million of Diveroli's property including a new Mercedes 550 that had been confiscated. Perhaps even more significant, Diveroli is out on bail and a company he owns called Ammoworks may even now be selling ammunition to the American government. This fact has been largely overlooked by prosecutors and Congress.
Diveroli comes from a family that includes arms dealers and a celebrity holyman. His uncle, Shmuley Boteach, was recently named by Newsweek as one of America's top 50 rabbis. He's also a former reality-TV host on TLC, a friend of Oprah's, and the bestselling author of Kosher Sex and Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments. Boteach was accused of misusing charity money in 1999 and paid some back. In 2001, he collaborated with Diveroli's mother and Michael Jackson on the ominously named "Time for Kids" charity, which later went bankrupt.
Diveroli grew up in Miami Beach and went to work at age 16 for another uncle, Bar-Kochba Boteach, who ran an arms dealership in South Central Los Angeles. Two years later, in 2004, Diveroli filed papers in Nevada to form Ammoworks, which would soon resurface at a gated community in Hollywood, Florida.
Diveroli then moved to Miami and took a job with his dad's arms company, AEY Inc. Within a year, at age 19, he took over as president. Along with a childhood buddy and two-time college dropout named David Packouz, he accrued a bevy of government contracts. In 2006, for instance, AEY shipped several million dollars of clothing, weapons, and firefighting equipment to government agencies, according to a website called Fedspending.org.
Soon, AEY was placed on a State Department blacklist. The firm was being investigated for "numerous violations of the Arms Export Control Act and contract fraud," according to a congressional report issued last year. In addition, it was accused of performing substandard work on at least 11 government contracts, which were ultimately withdrawn or terminated. According to the congressional report obtained by New Times: "Government contracting officials repeatedly warned of 'poor quality,' 'damaged goods,' 'junk' weapons, and other equipment in 'the reject category,' and they complained on several occasions that AEY was 'hurting the mission' and had 'endangered the performance' of government agencies."
Still, in January 2007, the firm won a $300 million contract with the U.S. Army to supply ammunition to
industry figure who was helping prosecutors investigate a weapons sale to the United States and an explosion that killed 26 people.
Mr. Kosta Trebicka died accidentally or was killed. He was a key courageous witness who has denounced the heavy illegal smuggling of ammunitions by Prime Minister's Sali Berisha Clan
Afghanistan for that nation's antiterrorism effort. AEY was to provide the police and national army with the bulk of their bullets.
Diveroli found much of the ammo in Albanian arms dumps. Some of it dated back decades and came from China. Unfortunately, selling Chinese-made war material to the Pentagon is illegal because of a 1989 arms embargo. Diveroli emailed the State Department in 2007 to ask if he could ship Chinese ammo. When the reply was no, federal prosecutors claim Diveroli removed the Chinese packaging and passed off the ammo as Hungarian.
Diveroli allegedly hired two of the men accused of mass murder at Gerdec to run the repackaging process at Tirana's Mother Teresa International Airport. The ammo was removed from sealed canisters and packaging marked "Made in China." It was then dumped into cardboard boxes and shipped to Afghanistan. Sometimes bullets spilled in transport.
In the tapes, Diveroli tells Trebicka to bribe one of the ammo repackagers. "Send one of your girls to fuck him," Diveroli says in the recording posted on YouTube and quoted by the New York Times. "If he gets $20,000 from you, I can live with this." Trebicka warns of the dangers of involving Pinari and his "Mafia guys" in the deal. But he assures Diveroli about their plan going forward and he alludes, mysteriously, to the CIA. "Probably I will be invited in Washington, D.C., by the CIA guys and my friends over there," Trebicka says. "Two weeks from now, I will come to Florida to shake hands with you and discuss future deals." It wasn't long after the tape's recording that Trebicka's body turned up outside the city of Korce. The Albanian government ruled he died accidentally when his car overturned, but some question that finding.
March 2008 was disastrous for Diveroli. On the 27th, the Times, acting partly on Trebicka's leads, accused the company of supplying Chinese ammo to the Pentagon in violation of federal law. The next day, the U.S. government suspended AEY from further contracting work. In a letter announcing the suspension, Pentagon officials warned that Diveroli might strike again: "It is reasonable to believe that both Mr. Diveroli and AEY will seek to obtain similar work in the future, either directly or as a representative of another contractor."
This turned out to be prescient. On March 6, 2008 three weeks before the Times story broke Efraim Diveroli had registered Ammoworks in Florida. It was headquartered in a Hayes Street apartment in Hollywood. In April, an industry insider spotted him at an arms fair in Malaysia.
But in June, a federal grand jury in Miami indicted Diveroli, as well as David Packouz and two other AEY associates, for fraud and conspiracy. Diveroli retained at least two government contracts for months after the indictment. "The contracts were for AK-47s and weapons repair parts," says Glenn Furbish, a senior audit manager for the Special Inspector General of Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).
SIGIR confirmed that Diveroli was paid $10 million for the two contracts. It seems that while he was under federal indictment, the federal government made him a multimillionaire.
This past September, Ammoworks moved to an office building on Michigan Avenue just north of Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. The firm wasn't listed in the registry downstairs, but its ninth-floor suite was spacious and sunlit, with a fitness ball for a chair. Though a worker there declined to comment, the firm's website, ammoworks.net, which has since been scrubbed of most text, bragged about a fortune in government contracts: "Ammoworks has produced hundreds of millions of dollars worth of firearms, ammo, and tactical gear among other things for our special forces in Iraq and Afghanistan."
In fact, Ammoworks may simply be a shell for AEY. Records show that the Ammoworks website was bought and registered by AEY, and AEY's latest state filing lists Ammoworks' address on Michigan Avenue. In a brief interview with New Times, Efraim Diveroli acknowledged that both companies are his. "Yes, I own Ammoworks, and I also own AEY," he said. He declined to comment further.
A salesman for Ammoworks, Boz Kramer, told New Times in a phone interview that the firm is out of stock and back-ordered in heavy-caliber Lithuanian .308 ammo. But he said it can be obtained with a hefty minimum order of 28,000 rounds or 140 "Sealed Military Battle Packs." According to its website, Ammoworks also sells AK-47 ammo "made in South Korea for a U.S. government contract."
Although Diveroli is awaiting trial and Ammoworks was placed on a U.S. blacklist, Kramer confirmed this past October that the company was trying to sell indirectly. "We provide quotes to companies that are selling to the government," he said.
A government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, "It's often the case that a company will get suspended or debarred, and then the owners will form another company and start getting contracts through the new company."
Maybe Efraim Diveroli the indicted 20-something, whom another unnamed official called a "ballsy little shit" will use that well-worn stratagem to again sell arms for America's wars.
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