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Cablegate: Nicaragua: Blue Lantern 050193786

VZCZCXYZ0001
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #1248/01 3311741
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 271740Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0202
INFO RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA

UNCLAS MANAGUA 001248

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ETTC KOMC NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA: BLUE LANTERN 050193786

REF: STATE 110404

1. On November 16, Econoff and ARSO met with Ligia Aleman, owner of Nuevo Impacto, at her store located on Camino Oriental in Managua. In response to reftel questions, Aleman told Econoff that she founded Nuevo Impacto in 2006 and began operations in 2007. Aleman had owned a business called Impacto for 15 years and had purchased arms for the Nicaraguan Army. She no longer works with the Army, although her husband is the Nicaraguan Chief of Defense, General Omar Halleslevens. Aleman told Emboffs that she has a U.S. citizen business partner and she buys from international gun vendors in various countries.

2. Nuevo Impacto is authorized by the Nicaraguan National Police to
import and sell firearms. There are only seven other regulated
firearms retailers in the country, according to Aleman. In
addition to these retailers, to whom she occasionally sells
wholesale, Aleman sells to private security companies. She also
sells to individuals who provide evidence that they are authorized
by the Police to carry firearms. Requirements include a
psychological evaluation, background check, and weapons
familiarization training. Aleman stated that many of the
individuals who purchase her guns work on farms or ranches and wish
to have a gun not only for self-defense, but also to project the
"cowboy" image. She further reported interest in purchasing
smaller pistols, such as the 9mm Cobras, for women, who are a
growing customer base because of increasing crime in Nicaragua.
She was able to produce electronic and paper records documenting
her purchases and sales, including the order from Valor Corporation
(reftel).

3. Local media reports concerning straw purchases and illicit
exports appear to have exaggerated the role of Nuevo Impacto.
Police initially implicated Nuevo Impacto in the arrest of Perci
Alvarado Villagran for arms smuggling. Media reports indicated
that Alvarado had ties to the Sinaloa drug cartel and was
transporting the guns to narcotraffickers in Honduras. After
questioning Alvarado, the police arrested Roger Monge, who appeared
to have facilitated the purchase of the seized weapons on behalf of
Alvarado, an act that violated Nicaraguan law regulating gun
ownership. The press reported that Monge contacted individual
buyers to make gun purchases and then purchased the guns from the
buyers and passed them on to Alvarado.

4. Police uncovered evidence that individuals hired by Monge
presented fraudulently obtained permits at Nuevo Impacto to
purchase guns. Aleman told Econoff that she was attending a gun
show in the United States when the buyers with fraudulent ID made
their purchases, and she acknowledged that her employees did not
recognize the pattern of suspicious purchases. However, Aleman
asserts that the purchases were made by buyers who had legal
permits from the National Police. Law 510 (2005) for the Control
and Regulation of Arms, Munitions and Explosives states that the
Police certify whether an individual can purchase firearms. As the
individuals buying weapons from Nuevo Impacto had the proper
documentation, there was no legal reason to deny their purchases.
She said that the fact that the purchasers were buying on behalf of
an alleged arms dealer could not have reasonably been known to the
employees of Nuevo Impacto; each had a valid gun permit issued by
the Police. Econoff spoke with Comisionado Horacio Sobalvarro,
Chief of the Weapons Division of the National Police, and he
confirmed that they had not found any wrongdoing on the part of
Nuevo Impacto or any other gun stores.

5. The store's physical security is inadequate, even in comparison
with most other guns stores in Nicaragua. The guns were displayed
in glass cases which could be easily broken. The storefront is
glass, without any metal curtains, and there is no safe for
overnight storage. The employees claimed that there was a working
alarm system but when pressed for details admitted that it did not
work. The store is protected by a roving guard who also monitors
several other businesses near Nuevo Impacto.

COMMENT

6. We have found no evidence that Nuevo Impacto or its employees were complicit in the illegal transfer of arms. Aleman satisfactorily answered our questions about the incident, and neither ARSO nor Econoff believe that there was duplicity on her part. Post therefore does not believe that Nuevo Impacto was knowingly involved in gun smuggling. However, the lack of physical security at Nuevo Impacto is of major concern. Though most Nicaraguan gun stores that have been the subjects of Blue Lantern investigations have poor store security, Nuevo Impacto's security does not meet minimum standards. Post provided Nuevo Impacto with recommendations on how to improve physical security, such as the installation of a metal curtain, alarm system, and safe. Until the owner implements new security measures, post's assessment is that Nuevo Impacto is not a reliable recipient of United States Munitions List (USML) items.
CALLAHAN

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