CIA corners the market on surplus weapons
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | February 07,2013
Century International Arms didn’t start out buying and selling surplus weapons that governments were happy to unload for a price.
The company that morphed into North America’s largest surplus firearms dealer started off innocently enough selling used office equipment. In 1961, William Sucher was selling used office equipment in Montreal when, as the story goes, one of his customers traded him a few military rifles for office equipment.
The deal was so profitable that Sucher, with the help of his brother-in-law Manny Weigensberg, never looked back and turned their sights on rounding up surplus weapons from around the world. Sucher and Weigensberg passed away some time ago.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, the company is now owned by four members of the Sucher family.
The company operates a manufacturing and distribution facility in the Arrowhead Industrial Park in Georgia with its corporate headquarters in Delray Beach, Fla.
In addition to surplus weapons, Century also sells new firearms, knives, swords, ammunition, scopes and accessories.
The company is licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as a manufacturer and importer of firearms and destructive devices.
Tim Smith, executive director of the Franklin County Industrial Development Corp., said the company keeps to itself.
“We do not have much contact with them,” Smith said. “We’ve tried but not with a lot of luck.”
Smith said at one time Century was located in a former railroad building in St. Albans. He said the company consolidated its operations several years ago to a 100,000-square-foot building in a private industrial park in Georgia.
Since the school shootings in Connecticut, the focus of gun control advocates has been to ban the sale of military-style semiautomatic weapons and large capacity magazines.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering legislation to curb gun violence, including restrictions on military style semiautomatic weapons and large magazines or clips. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is the the committe’s chairman.
Leahy, Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.,and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., were asked whether they were troubled, especially in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, that the largest distributor of semiautomatic weapons in the country is doing business in Vermont.
They issued a joint statement saying that the company has a right to conduct business as long as it’s in compliance with the law.
“They are engaged in a lawful business just as others are that are involved in firearms commerce, employing many Vermonters,” the emailed statement read. “Like all federal firearms licensees, they are subject to oversight by several federal agencies, including the State Department and ATF, and that is appropriate. Congress currently is considering possible changes to address gun violence, and we welcome this debate. And if Congress approves new steps to address gun violence, we are confident that Vermont businesses would comply with them.”
Company officials declined to be interviewed for this story but Brady Toensing, a lawyer who represents the company, provided emailed answers to several questions submitted by the Rutland Herald.
Toensing’s response was that the company supports proposals that can prevent future tragedies but not restrictions on the sale of firearms.
“Common sense dictates the focus should be on tackling the problem of the nation’s woefully inadequate mental health system and creating a legal structure and reporting system that would keep firearms out of the hands of mentally unstable people,” said Toensing, a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of diGenova & Toensing.
“But an effective solution like this appears to be too difficult of a challenge in the current atmosphere in Washington,” he added. “Instead, the focus has been on draconian and ineffective proposals that will deprive law-abiding citizens of their constitutional rights without solving the problem or diminishing the likelihood of future tragedies.”
Century International Arms has kept a low profile over the years but its name surfaces in the news from time to time. During the 1980s, Century’s guns were traced to the Contras in Nicaragua. In 1998, Century was involved in a dispute with a Russian arms supplier over the purchase of carbines and revolvers.
Century refused payment accusing the Russian company of selling substandard weapons. However, according to news reports, The International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce in Zurich awarded the Russian company $2.5 million.
In 2008, Century acquired surplus World War II weapons that the U.S. government had donated to Guatemala, with the provision that Guatemala could not transfer or sell the firearms without the OK of the U.S. Government, according to a 2011 story in The Palm Beach Post. The Post, citing cables obtained from WikiLeaks, reported that Century acquired the surplus arms from Guatemala without U.S. approval with the help of an Israeli middleman.
More recently, Century’s semiautomatic version of the WASR-10, a Romanian version of the legendary AK-47, have been smuggled into Mexico through straw buyers, ending up in the hands of drug gangs, The Center for Public Integrity reported in 2011.
But Toensing defended the company’s record saying it complies with all federal, state and local laws and does not sell firearms to Mexico.
“Century ships firearms to licensed firearms dealers in the United States and expects those firearms will be sold in compliance with the law,” he said. “U.S. law strictly forbids the selling or transfer of firearms to anyone in Mexico without an approval from the U.S. Department of State and the Government of Mexico. Century also expects that individuals who break these laws will be found, prosecuted and punished.”
The company declined to release any sales figures or the percentage of semiautomatic weapons sales.
(According to the federal figures, 38,048 Romanian rifles were imported into the U.S. in 2011 by all firearms dealers. Brazil was the largest supplier of rifles to the U.S. with imports totalling 381,097)
Toensing pointed out that the company is a significant economic contributor to the economy of Franklin County, employing nearly 200 people, plus supporting jobs doing business with its Vermont vendors.
“In all, Century contributes more than 11 million dollars a year to the economy of Vermont in wages and benefits,” he said. “Additionally, Century has paid almost $10 million in the last two years in excise taxes that are used by the federal government to restore, conserve, and manage wildlife habitat.