Romanian police were yesterday struggling to find the culprits responsible for the mysterious theft of 64 missile warheads from a train carrying military equipment across the border to Bulgaria.
Unconfirmed Romanian news reports claimed that the train was loaded on Friday, but before reaching the Romanian port of Giurgiu, on the River Danube, the driver had made what appeared to have been an illicit stop in the town of Stanesti, allegedly in order to smuggle some 70 litres of diesel fuel.
The 10 police officers who were supposed to be guarding the transport, had gathered in the front carriage and were watching television while the train was stopped in the town. The thieves were therefore able to make off with the warheads undetected, the reports said.
Railway staff said their suspicions were raised when the train arrived at Giurgiu and they noticed that a seal on one of the carriages containing the warhead shipment had been broken. Romanian prosecutors said yesterday that they had questioned more than 50 people in their attempts to track down the thieves.
The warheads, which are said to be unarmed, were produced by the Romanian weapons manufacturer, Tohan Zarnesti. They were part of a shipment of military equipment to the Bulgarian company Sage consultants under private contract.
Officials insisted there was little threat posed by the theft.
Florin Hulea, a Romanian police spokesman said the weapons were merely components and were not dangerous because they were not assembled in a missile system.
The claims were backed by Eugen Badalan, a parliamentary defence committee spokesman, who said: "The thieves had no idea what they stole."
The Bulgarian economy ministry claimed the warheads belonged to 122mm (4.8in)-diameter Grad rockets, which are typically fired from vehicle-mounted multiple-rocket launchers.
It was also at pains to suggest that they were not dangerous in their current form.
In a statement, the ministry said the shipment was part of a transfer of "nonfunctional components and parts" for reprocessing at the VMZ factory – one of Bulgaria's largest military factories – in Sopot, central Bulgaria, where the components and parts were to be replaced and the warheads prepared for sale.
"The fuzes [warheads] were transported separately from the projectiles," the ministry added.
Prosecutors said they suspected that the thieves may have been scrap metal dealers.
The driver of the train had also been subject to police questioning, they said. However they refused to say whether he was suspected of setting up the theft.
Romanian national state company Romarm said the Bulgarian company was responsible for train security.