After a lengthy trial that lasted almost a year, the German arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch (H&K) was found guilty of illegally selling 5,000 G36 rifles to Mexico between 2006 and 2009, violating the German War Weapons Control Act.
Two former employees of the firm, Marianne B. and Ingo S., were given suspended prison sentences plus a fine of $90,000. Moreover, the company was fined $4.2 million, which accounts for the approximate value of the G36s. However, the former CEO and main contact with the German government’s arms export department was found innocent.
Politicians in Germany’s Left Party have been pressuring the government to ensure increased transparency in defense companies. “From this verdict, we see what a problem it is that in Germany we have no way of prosecuting a company. So, it’s in the nature of the process that the bosses never leave a paper trail. It will also be very difficult to prosecute CEOs,” said Jan van Aken, an MP with the Left Party and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Subcommittee on Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
Some background is needed to better understand the backlash over the arms sale. In 2014, in Iguala, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, almost 50 teaching students were either killed on the spot or abducted and executed by a joint group of mobsters and corrupt law enforcement officers. The bodies of those abducted have yet to be recovered by Mexican authorities. Evidence suggests the bodies were burned, and their ashes were scattered to cover up the massacre.
“We hope that the verdict will play a role in making sure that there will be no more violations of the law of this kind, and that weapons will no longer be exported to places where they’re not meant to be,” said Leonel Gutierrez Solano, the brother of Aldo Gutierrez Solano, a teaching student who was shot in the head during the incident and remains in a coma.
Following the verdict, H&K released a statement: “We can however not understand the court’s decision that we should not only forfeit the profit generated on the Mexico business but instead forfeit the entire sales price, despite the fact that none of the directors committed an offense.” A company representative emphasized that since the scandal began, the firm has undergone a transformation process centered on new ethical standards.
Although H&K has a yearly turnover of almost $230 million, it has been facing financial troubles for some time.