On Monday morning, after weeks of undercover investigation, an elite police investigative unit detained the CEO, owners and some of the employees of the EMIT Company under suspicion that they illegally sold military technology to the Chinese government.
Detectives from the police's International Serious Crimes Unit detained the suspects for further questioning, and after doing so, made public allegations describing a web of forgeries and lies through which the suspects allegedly conspired to sell the sensitive military technology - including the Sparrow Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) - to the east Asian superpower.
The Kadima-based company is suspected of selling UAVs without receiving governmental clearance to do so, and of exporting military-related research to Chinese sources. They are also suspected of forging documents in order to export the equipment from Israel.
Police would not say if EMIT's founder and managing director, Ephraim Menashy, was or was not the lead suspect in the case. Menashy was the chief pilot and the test pilot for the UAV MALAT division of Israel Aviation Industries during 1981 to 1991.
The company's CEO is suspected of bypassing export laws by claiming that he was lending the Sparrow UAV and its accompanying equipment to China in order to display it at a weapons exhibition. According to police allegations, once the CEO's actions were uncovered, he began a deliberate campaign to destroy evidence, including changing and forging contracts that he had made with the customers in question.
Attorney Devora Hen who is representing EMIT said in an interview on Army Radio Monday that "the CEO denies all of the incidents ascribed to him, and especially the way in which they were presented in the press."
The Sparrow, released in 2004, is, according to the EMIT company, already in use by an Asian navy. Among its features are superior surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities and remote warfare operations.
EMIT is one of the world leaders in the development of UAVs, and works with Israel Aircraft Industries, Elbit and other top Israeli military technology developers, as well as US-based Kollsman and Canada-based Oerlikon-Contraves. EMIT designs, develops and manufactures cost-effective UAV systems, specializing in avionics, auto-pilot systems and full size and compact GCS (ground control stations) with up to 200 km. communication range.
This is not the first time that an Israeli company has run into legal and diplomatic problems over UAV sales to China. In 1994 IAI sold China Harpy drones, a killer UAV that hovers over enemy anti-missile batteries and radar systems and then destroys them by diving into them. The scandal surrounding that sale still plagues US-Israel relations, especially in the field of military technology cooperation.