Activists protest German energy company's trade with Iran at its board of directors meeting

Tactic reveals that Berlin provides credit guarantees to support such trade.

Iran natural gas 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iran natural gas 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
German and Iranian human rights activists bought shares in The Linde Group, the gases and engineering giant, and posed tough questions to the Linde board of directors on Friday at the annual stockholder meeting about the company's controversial trade relationship with Iran. While European oil corporations such as the French company Total are backing away from production in Iran because of Teheran's political instability, Linde is developing a project with the National Iran Oil company to liquefy natural gas and earned a total revenue of 91 million euros from Iran in 2008. Speaking at the Munich International Congress Center before 2,000 stockholders and the Linde board of directors, Dr. Kazem Moussavi, an Iranian who fled the Islamic Republic due to political repression and lives in Germany, asked the Linde top management whether "you can as a board of directors... conduct business with a regime that destroys the human rights of its population and denies the Holocaust and has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map?" Wolfgang Reitzle, the chief executive officer of Linde, said he did "not want to respond in detail to such topics as the Holocaust." When asked if Linde has a special responsibility to the Jewish state because of the Shoah, Uwe Wolfinger, Linde's spokesman, told The Jerusalem Post that the company "will not provide a societal or political statement" because that is "not our mandate." Ulrike Becker, who, like Moussavi, is affiliated with the political organization Stop the Bomb, which seeks to dramatically curtail German-Iranian trade with a view toward pressuring Teheran to stop its nuclear weapons program, asked Reitzle, "How do the business deals, which support the Iranian regime, conform with the ethical standards outlined in Linde's code of ethics?" According to Linde's Web page, the corporate responsibility and ethic's section states, "we place great importance on recording the impact of our business operations on people, communities and the environment. The effect we have on our surroundings feeds into every decision we make." Dr. Aldo Belloni, a member of the Linde board of directors, told the critical shareholders that "the sanctions' list of the European Union instructs which persons in Iran are excluded from trade and we are arranging our Iranian customer base in accordance" with the EU sanctions. The public relations and communications departments of German companies active in Iran shroud their business deals in secrecy and are extremely reticent to disclose even basic trade volume numbers or acknowledge that an Iranian trade relationship exists. The annual stockholder meetings of Linde - as well as the Austrian oil company OMV shareholder meeting last week in Vienna - have turned into perhaps the only venue to secure concrete data for those concerned about business support for Iran's regime. A telling example, Stop the Bomb shareholders were able to reveal that Linde receives a government credit guarantee of 16.5 million euros to insure its trade relationship with Iran. German companies' total trade with Iran (roughly 4 billion euro per year) is a source of ongoing friction between Israel and Germany. While Chancellor Angela Merkel has talked about turning the economic screws on Iran, her administration continues to subsidize companies that trade with Teheran.