A Defense Ministry probe has cleared Israeli authorities of any wrongdoing in the alleged attempted sale of helicopters – formerly used by the Israel Air Force – by Spanish businessmen to Iran.

Last month, the Defense Ministry opened an investigation into claims that Spanish police had arrested a group of businessmen trying to sell American helicopters formerly owned by Israel to the Islamic Republic.

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According to news sources in Spain, five Spanish businessmen and three Iranians were arrested in an operation called “Nam,” during which a number of Bell-112 military transport helicopters were seized. Israel had used the Bell-112 up until the 1990s when it purchased the Sikorsky HU-60 Blackhawk as a transport helicopter.

According to the Israeli probe, in March 2005, the Defense Ministry signed a contract to sell 16 surplus helicopters to a Swedish company called ESP. Israel asked and received approval for the deal from the Pentagon, since the aircraft are of American origin.

Before selling US military equipment, Israel is required to receive permission from the Pentagon. It also generally has buyers sign documents obligating them to certain restrictions such as not selling them to Iran.

The helicopters were supposed to be used by the Swedish company as firefighting aircraft in Scandinavia and Germany. Three of the helicopters were transferred to the customer in February 2006.

In August 2006, ESP signed a contract and transferred ownerships of six helicopters to a Spanish company that also declared its intention to use them in firefighting operations.

In 2008, US authorities gave their approval once again for the deal. Six more helicopters were then transferred to Spain between July and September 2009.

At a later date, Israel’s deal with ESP was canceled after the Swedish company failed to meet the payments it had committed to under the contract. The seven remaining helicopters were offered in an international tender and were sold to another foreign customer. The deal was approved by the US and the aircraft are pending delivery.

The Defense Ministry said on Sunday that it was continuing to cooperate with the Spanish investigation, but stressed that Israel had upheld all of its obligations and had received approval from the US for every stage of the deal.

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