Moving munitions

German arms-maker accused of gun smuggling

Fighters of Colombian guerrilla FARC
Good customers? Colombian guerilla group, FARC, on patrol. Source: DPA

Colombia’s decades-long civil war may be over, but the fallout is just reaching Germany today. Prosecutors in the northern German city of Kiel confirmed this week that they will press charges against five executives with Sig Sauer, a German arms manufacturer. They are expected to face charges of breaking German arms export controls by selling tens of thousands of handguns to the South American country in the last decade.

The accused include senior executives and export managers, according to spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office. Prosecution documents seen by the German broadcaster NDR allege the company illegally shipped 36,628 handguns to Colombia’s national police, via an initial shipment to a sister company in the US.

Sig Sauer is alleged to have made false statements on export license applications between 2009 and 2012, leading government officials to believe the guns were destined for the American marketplace. Yet prosecutors say the German executives had to know the true destination: Only German-made handguns could have met the specifications that its US subsidiary had brokered with Colombian police.

“You don't sell weapons to a country having a civil war for fun.”

Jurgen Graesslin, anti-arms activist, who alerted prosecutors to the Sig Sauer deal.

If that argument is accepted, the executives could face heavy fines and up to five years in prison. Prosecutors also want a fine of €12 million ($14.8 million) levied on the manufacturer, a figure roughly equal to the revenue raised from the sale.

Gerald Goecke, the lawyer for Sig Sauer, said he was still convinced that the exports were shipped legally to the US. At the time, the Obama administration supported arms supplies to Colombian police to aid in the fight against drug traffickers. However he would not give further details because his clients had not yet been officially served with warrants.

Jurgen Graesslin, a prominent German peace activist, disagrees. “You don’t sell weapons to a country having a civil war for fun,” Mr. Graesslin, who first brought the company’s activities in Colombia to investigators’ attention in 2014, says today. “For us, that is organized crime.”

Sig Sauer soll Millionen-Strafe zahlen
Raided: Sig Sauer offices in Schleswig-Holstein. Source: DPA

The case has since been hampered by the mysterious theft of a laptop owned by Sig Sauer’s former managing director from prosecutors’ offices. But apparently the evidence on there wasn’t essential to the prosecution proceeding.

Sig Sauer has been hit hard by the investigation: Offices have been raided several times, exports have been stopped altogether and half the staff laid off. Last year the company announced it would not compete to supply a new assault rifle for the German army, saying the specifications in the tender appeared to favor a gun that local competitor Heckler & Koch already made.

There are still around 100 staff working for the company but only because Sig Sauer managed to sell €1.2 million worth of assault weapons to the state of Schleswig Holstein. The company’s main business is increasingly done in the US, where last year its American sister company won an order for half a million handguns from the US armed forces, worth over $500 million.

Based in Berlin, Lars-Marten Nagel is a member of Handelsblatt’s investigative team. To contact the author:

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