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Warehouse full of tanks stirs debate in Belgium

STORY: In a warehouse in Belgium sits rows and rows of Leopard tanks.

Not the Leopard 2 model donated by Western governments to Ukraine. This is an older model, the Leopard 1.

Freddy Versluys wants to sell them, but does not like to be called an arms dealer.

He's adamant, stressing to Reuters that he is the CEO of two defense companies that deal in a broad range of activities, such as making sensors for spacecraft.

But buying and selling weapons is part of his business too.

"We bought this approximately eight years ago in the market. They are available (for sale) over here, but we cannot use them as is, of course. We need a full retrofit, we have to look at the fire control system. So we really have to make them, bring them back to track before we can use them in any kind of battlefield."


It's these tanks that have brought him into the spotlight as he has engaged in a public battle with the Belgian government over the possibility of sending them to Ukraine.

While Ukraine's allies have pledged to send tanks to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion, Belgium has not joined that group, for one reason above all: it doesn’t have any tanks left.

It sold the last 50 it had to Versluys’s company more than five years ago.

And Belgian Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder is reluctant to buy them back.

"These (Belgian) tanks were sold for a price of 10,000 to 15,000 euros (each) as they were not longer working. Nothing prevents us from buying them back, but they are not operational. And we're not going to buy them back at unreasonable prices either, and at the moment there are Belgian companies that make a margin that is unreasonable."

If Belgium does not buy back the tanks, Versluys says another country could purchase them for Kyiv. Versluys said he had held discussions with several European governments about that option.

"There are governments which we have, let's say, currently in discussion. I just got recently a call from the Ukraine government. Yeah, yeah, so there's a lot of interest. But that's because the German government gave export licences and until today that was not the case. But there's also the UK government we're talking to, the Swedish government, so there's a lot of governments interested. But we'll have to see what happens."