Morales, a Florida arms dealer, entertains the group with whimsical tales about his new $10 million yacht, Trigger Happy, and his search for someone to manage his company’s nine-figure portfolio. Also on his every word was the name of Vladimir Kaufman, a senior sergeant in the Ukrainian army whom Morales pays to set up meetings with his government contacts. Legal experts say the unusual arrangement is testing the limits of US and Ukrainian corruption laws, which ban payments to government officials.
According to a report in The New York Times, the meeting offered a glimpse into a silent aspect of the war strategy of the administration of US President Joe Biden. Washington has given Ukraine more than $40 billion in security aid, including advanced weapons such as HIMARS missiles and Patriot missiles. But the Pentagon also relies heavily on questionable arms dealers like Morales, who have ties to obtain ammunition from around the world, much of it of low quality or Soviet caliber.
The newspaper researched, Morales is one of Ukraine’s most important suppliers. The Pentagon has awarded contracts worth about $1 billion to his company, mostly for munitions. Records show that he has made a side business of about $200 million by selling directly to Ukrainians.
In addition to hiring Sergeant Kaufman, Morales appointed a longtime adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister, who was recently fired by Zelensky over concerns about bribery and mismanagement.
Of course, Morales is no blank slate in the United States. The Justice Department charged him with conspiracy and money laundering in 2009 after he was taped allegedly bribing foreign officials. “You just have to be smarter than the government,” Morales said on a recording. (FBI agents cracked the case, and prosecutors eventually dropped the charges). But the war in Ukraine changed everything. The Biden administration, which wants to arms Ukraine but is reluctant to deploy troops, needs people like Morales, who has proven in Afghanistan and Syria that he can deliver and supply weapons consistently.
It is said that Morales’s rivals are very angry. His ties to the Pentagon are an unfair advantage. Arms dealers around the world compete for a limited supply of Soviet-style weapons, mostly from Eastern Europe, to sell to Ukraine. Several Eastern European arms dealers have complained that because of money flowing out of Washington, Morales can afford to pay more than his competitors. Then it fulfills its US contracts and buys itself more ammunition to sell directly to Ukraine.