German gunmaker fined €3.7m over illegal arms exports to Mexico

A German court Thursday fined gunmaker Heckler & Koch €3.7 million and gave suspended jail terms to two of its ex-employees for illegally exporting thousands of rifles to violence-torn Mexican states.

German gunmaker fined €3.7m over illegal arms exports to Mexico
Firearms of the German manufacturer Heckler & Koch. Photo: DPA

A former worker was given a suspended sentence of 17 months in prison and ordered to do 250 hours of social work, while the other person convicted got an €80,000 fine and a 22-month suspended jail term.

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Three other former employees were cleared of charges. The firm is based in Baden-Württemberg and the case was heard at a court in Stuttgart. 

Germany is among the world's top arms exporters, along with the United States, Russia, China and France, and all its defence equipment sales abroad are subject to government approval.

Prosecutors had charged that 15 shipments of the military-style weapons between 2006 and 2009 breached Germany's so-called war weapons control law because they ended up in especially violence-torn Mexican states in breach of the export licence.

The Mexican defence ministry, which is in charge of gun imports, had approved the import of 9,652 H&K rifles, of which 4,796 went to states with particular human rights concerns, including Guerrero, German newspapers have reported.

Activists say that G36 rifles were also sent to police in Iguala, Guerrero state, where the 43 students disappeared at the hands of corrupt police and were feared killed by a narco-gang in September 2014 in a case that sparked international condemnation.

A driving force in the investigation leading to the trial was German rights activist Juergen Graesslin, who first issued a criminal complaint against H&K staff over the Mexico sales in 2010.

The campaigner said it was well known that in the most conflict-torn Mexican states both police and narco-gangsters used the G36, and that “often the two groups cooperate”.



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‘Trade has collapsed’: Germany sees business with UK slump after Brexit

Germany's exports ticked up in January on robust trade with China, but trade with another key trade partner, Great Britain, plummeted after the Britain left the EU.

'Trade has collapsed': Germany sees business with UK slump after Brexit
Southampton harbour. Photo:Andrew Matthews/DPA

The Brexit fallout has continued to hurt commerce with the United Kingdom, with federal statistics office Destatis recording a 29 percent plunge in German exports across the Channel.

Meanwhile, demand for UK goods in Germany collapsed by more than 56 percent, official data showed Tuesday.

Cross-Channel exporters have had to adapt to new customs requirements from January 1, following Britain’s 2016 decision to leave the European Union.

Firms on both sides have since complained of increased bureaucracy and shipment delays as they grapple with the new rules.

BREXIT: What changes in Germany from January 2021?

“Foreign trade with Britain has collapsed,” said LBBW bank economist Jens-Oliver Niklasch.

Overall, German exports rose 1.4 percent month-on-month in seasonally adjusted figures, Destatis said.

But imports sank as coronavirus shutdowns sapped consumer demand in Europe’s top economy.

Imports slumped 4.7 percent, widening Germany’s closely-watched trade surplus to 22.2 billion euros.

Compared with a year ago, before the pandemic ravaged the global economy, exports fell 8.0 percent in January and imports almost 10 percent.

“Consumer demand fell sharply in January due to a lack of opportunities” as the government kept non-essential shops, leisure and cultural centres closed to rein in the coronavirus,  Niklasch.

But demand for “made in Germany” goods was powered by vital trade partner China, which has recovered faster from the virus shock.

Exports to European Union countries plunged six percent year-on-year, while demand for EU goods within Germany was down by almost the same.

Combined with Germany’s struggles to bring down Covid-19 infections despite months of shutdowns, “the January reading is not an indication of renewed German export strength, but rather an alarm bell for the first quarter.”