Belgian entrepreneur Freddy Versluys has been buying up old tanks and armored personnel carriers for 20 years, hoping that one day there would be a demand for weapons again. Now the Belgian’s arsenal is considered one of the largest among private collections in Europe, and Versluys hopes that his tanks “will finally see combat operations in Ukraine”, The Guardian reports.
His arsenal includes 50 Leopard 1 tanks, 38 German Gepard tanks, 112 Austrian SK-105 light tanks, 100 Italian VCC2 armored personnel carriers, and 70 M113 tanks. In total his defense company OIP Land Systems has around 500 armored vehicles in stock.
Arsenal of Belgian defence company OIP Land Systems
“Many of these tanks have been here for years. Hopefully, now the time has come for them to finally see combat in Ukraine”
The Belgian entrepreneur has bought up most of his stock over the past two decades, buying tanks directly from European governments that had been cutting back on defense spending.
In one major deal, he bought 50 Leopard 1 tanks, which the Belgian government decommissioned in 2014, for €37,000 each. “It was a market price because of the geopolitical situation at the time,” he said.
The Leopard 1, produced in the 1960s, is lighter and less powerful than the newer Leopard 2 tanks, 14 of which Germany agreed last week to send to Ukraine, but German officials said they could still compete with Russian tanks. For years, Wersluis has been unable to sell Leopard 1 and Gepard tanks because German law requires Berlin’s approval to re-export its military hardware. But Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision last week on Leopard 2 tanks, which opened the floodgates to other European countries, has opened new possibilities.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the West’s subsequent unprecedented military support for Kyiv has already resulted in the OIP selling 46 M113 light armored vehicles to the UK, which it handed over to Ukraine as part of a military package.
Belgium, which has no tanks left in its arsenal, has explored the possibility of buying back the Leopard 1 tanks sold to the entrepreneur. Belgian Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder said last week that she had begun talks with OIP, but accused the firm of trying to make a “huge profit” from the sale. “Negotiations are still ongoing, but I am not going to pay half a million for a tank that is nowhere near combat-ready,” Dedonder told the Belgian media.
Versluys denied that the Belgian government had approached him and said it was difficult to name a price at which he would sell the tanks. “There is no point in talking about prices right now because we need to check the condition of each tank and what needs to be upgraded,” he said.
The entrepreneur stressed that it could take months and up to €1 million to repair each one to get it ready for use in Ukraine. “They need a new engine, shock absorbers, the latest radar technology – the list goes on,” he specified.
Freddy Versluys also said that he had recently been approached by Ukraine’s state arms exporter and importer about the possibility of buying tanks. He said the UK Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) had also approached them since Germany announced its Leopards.
“We are open to all options,” Versluys said. – “But the price has to be fair, we are not a charity.
OIP is still unable to sell its large stock of Austrian-made SK-105 light tanks because Vienna has not approved the exports, the publication notes. “This is a great shame because they are in good condition and easy to prepare,” Versluys said.
“We took these tanks when nobody wanted them. Now I would like to see them in Ukraine,” the businessman added.