German firms sent weapons-grade chemicals to Syria despite sanctions — report

Despite EU restrictions, German companies were involved in exporting chemicals to Syria, a report has uncovered. The ingredients can be used to make sarin gas — a nerve agent repeatedly used in Syria’s devastating war.

Despite European Union sanctions, German companies were involved in exporting weapons-grade chemicals to Syria in the midst of the war, according to a report published on Tuesday.

The deals were uncovered by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk, and Switzerland’s Tamedia media group.

According to the report, German chemical wholesaler Brenntag AG sold the chemicals isopropanol and diethylamine to Syria in 2014 using a subsidiary in Switzerland. The recipient was a Syrian pharmaceutical company that had ties to the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Reporters revealed that the diethylamine was produced by German chemicals giant BASF at a plant in the Belgian city of Antwerp. The isopropanol was made by Sasol Solvents Germany GmbH, located in Hamburg.

Although the chemicals can be used to make pharmaceutical drugs, they can also be used in the production of chemical weapons and nerve agents such as VX and sarin gas.

Sarin gas, in particular, has been used in attacks carried out by the Assad regime during the war. The United Nations found that sarin gas used in an attack in 2017 was made using isopropanol. The attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people.

Violating EU rules

Brenntag AG confirmed that the delivery of the chemicals to Syria was handled by its subsidiary in Switzerland “in accordance with the laws at the time,” Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

Following numerous reports of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war, the EU placed restrictions on exporting raw materials used to make chemical weapons.

Formal authorization has been required since 2012 for exports of diethlamine, and since 2013 for isopropanol.

These rules not only apply to direct exports to Syria, but also for indirect sales through countries like Switzerland.

The Federal Office of Economics and Export Control, which is responsible for approving such exports, said that it had not issued any permits for those chemicals to this date.

The involvement of German firms in the 2014 chemical export deals is particularly controversial considering that Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles were destroyed in an internationally-coordinated action that same year.

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