The RAAF continues to store the choppers rent-free at
the Tindal base in the Northern Territory after plans to sell them
to the Nepalese army fell through last year.
The helicopters were at the centre of the controversial $49
million contract between the PNG Government and mercenary company
Sandline International to supply weapons and manpower to assist
PNG's war in Bougainville in 1997.
Last year they were nearly sold to the Royal Nepalese Army for
$8.4 million to be used against Maoist rebels.
A Sandline spokesman said negotiations were advanced to make a
sale to another, un-named party.
The two Hind Mi-24 gunships were part of a $20.4 million package
- including assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and hundreds
of thousands of rounds of ammunition - supplied by Sandline to PNG.
But they were instead diverted to Australia in March 1997 when
the secret mercenary plan became public and was aborted at the 11th
The armaments were intended to only stay in Australia for a few
There was then a long legal battle between PNG, Sandline and
other parties about who owned the armaments, and what should be done
Considered among the world's best attack helicopters, the Mi-24s
were originally used by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the
They are believed to have been bought by Sandline on the East
European arms market.
Two other Russian-made helicopters also intended for PNG - Hind
Mi-17 troop carriers - were sold in 1999.
But it has been more difficult to dispose of the gunships because
of their military classification.
Responding to the Herald Sun, the Defence Department said
the helicopters were in storage at RAAF Tindal on behalf of Sandline
and remained Sandline's property.
Sandline spokesman Michael Grunberg said negotiations for the
sale were in train with a potential customer entitled to acquire
"Any sale of the helicopters will, of course, be in full
compliance with both Australian law . . . and any relevant
international laws and regulations," he said.