Two German businessmen were convicted today of illegally selling equipment to Iraq that could be used to make long-range cannons capable of firing weapons of mass destruction. The verdict ended a high-profile trial that exposed German commercial ties with Baghdad and embarrassed the government.
A court in the western city of Mannheim sentenced Bernd Schompeter, a 59-year-old engineer, to five years and three months in prison for his part in the 1999 sale of large drills, a transaction that circumvented German law and a U.N. embargo.
Schompeter "was aware of the military sensitivity of the matter," said Presiding Judge Michael Seidling, rejecting defense arguments that Schompeter did not know the ultimate purpose or destination of the specialized drills, which can have both civilian and military uses. "He made a living from handling this kind of order. . . . He was aware of the explosiveness of his actions."
A second defendant, Willi Heinz Ribbeck, 53, who worked for the company that manufactured the drills, received two years' probation.
Prosecutors charged that Schompeter shipped the parts to a front company in Jordan run by an Iraqi-born American citizen, Sahib Abd Amir Haddad. The prosecution said Haddad took Iraqi orders for parts and tried to fill them in Germany in violation of a 1991 U.N. embargo on the shipment to Iraq of arms or certain "dual-use" equipment that had both peaceful and military applications. The panel of judges ruled today that Schompeter was aware of the identity of Haddad's customer.
Haddad was arrested in Bulgaria in November, and German prosecutors are seeking his extradition.
The drills in question are capable of boring holes for tubes in cannons that could fire nuclear, biological or chemical shells, prosecutors said. Officials said they did not know if the drills were actually used for that purpose once they reached Iraq.
In Iraq's recent declaration to the United Nations on its weapons programs, 80 out of the 150 foreign companies listed as suppliers were German. Most of the deals were made before 1992, when Germany began to crack down on the trade, but the government remains concerned about the fallout from such commercial links.
The German Foreign Ministry, at the request of prosecutors, took the unusual step of writing to the court about the impact of such sales, saying they cause "considerable damage to Germany's foreign relations."
Germany's opposition to any war in Iraq has only heightened the government's desire to quash any notion that companies based there have assisted the government of President Saddam Hussein.
Prosecutors argued that Ribbeck should have stopped the sale, knowing that it circumvented the extensive documentation required for such orders. But their principal target was Schompeter, who had other dealings with Haddad, allegedly including illegal shipments of military-use equipment to Africa.
"The defendant is a one-man company who got around rather strict German export controls," said the prosecutor, Stephan Morweiser. "We want to control what arms deals are being done in Germany's name."