German firms helped Assad family build Syrian chemical weapons program, bombshell report alleges

Der Spiegel says the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to keep secret any information that links German firms to Syria’s arsenal of chemical arms.

January 23, 2015 22:21
1 minute read.
Late Syrian president Hafez Assad seen here at an Arab League summit in 1996

Late Syrian president Hafez Assad seen here at an Arab League summit in 1996. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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German companies helped the Syrian regime of the late Hafez Assad and his son, current President Bashar Assad, produce its chemical weapons program, according to declassified documents whose contents were revealed on Friday by the German weekly Der Spiegel.

Citing Foreign Ministry files that recently came to light by dint of the expiration of a 30-year embargo, Der Spiegel says that German companies knowingly colluded with Syrian and Iraqi government officials, helping them build a covert chemical weapons program under the guise of “agricultural and medical research.”

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The publication goes on to accuse the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel of seeking to keep secret any information that links German firms to Syria’s arsenal of chemical arms.

Officials in Berlin reportedly received a list of German companies involved in the Syrian chemical weapons program – a list which was obtained by the UN agency that was charged with dismantling Damascus’ chemical stockpile – and promptly sought to have it kept hidden from public knowledge.

Der Spiegel reported on Friday that the government may have been negligent in mistakenly declassifying one such document produced by the Institute for Contemporary History, a state-funded entity. The document lists a number of German companies that cooperated with the Assad family in its quest to build up a stockpile of sarin and nerve gas.

The firms include Schott, a glass manufacturing company; Heraeus, an engineering company specializing in precious metals; Kolb, a laboratory equipment producer; Riedel-de Haen, a onetime subsidiary of Hoechst; pharmaceutical giant Merck; and Gerrit van Delden.

According to Der Spiegel, in 1984, the then-West German government was tipped off by Israel’s ambassador at the time, Yitzhak Ben-Ari, who presented intelligence indicating that German scientists were working on a chemical weapons program for Syria “which was disguised as agricultural and medical research.”

At the time, Bonn promised to investigate. Yet the Der Spiegel report says that the Merkel government’s unwillingness to demonstrate transparency on the issue – a pattern of behavior repeated by her predecessors, particularly Helmut Kohl - may be a sign that no investigation was conducted.

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