BERLIN (AFP) — Germany’s highest court upheld a ruling on Tuesday fining gunmaker Heckler & Koch millions of dollars and handing suspended jail terms to two of its former employees for illegally exporting rifles to violence-torn Mexican states.
The court said it saw “no legal error” in the 2019 decision by a regional court in Stuttgart to slap a 3.7 million euro ($4.2 million) fine on the arms company and sentence the two men.
The original ruling had found that Heckler & Koch had exported military-style weapons including 4,219 assault rifles and 1,759 magazines of ammunition to Mexico between 2005 and 2007.
While the deliveries had been approved by German export authorities, they were ruled illegal because the weapons ended up in especially violence-torn Mexican states in breach of the export license, the court said.
One former worker was given a suspended sentence of 17 months in prison and ordered to do 250 hours of social work, while the other person convicted got an 80,000 euro fine and a 22-month suspended jail term.
Three other former employees were cleared of charges.
A driving force in the investigation leading to the trial was German rights activist Juergen Graesslin, who first issued a criminal complaint against H&K staff over the Mexico sales in 2010.
The campaigner said it was well known that in the most conflict-torn Mexican states both police and narco-gangsters used H&K’s G36 rifles.
Activists also claimed that G36 rifles were sent to police in Iguala, Guerrero state, where 43 students disappeared at the hands of corrupt police and were feared killed by a narco-gang in September 2014 in a case that sparked international condemnation.
Germany is among the world’s top arms exporters, along with the United States, Russia, China and France, and all its defense equipment sales abroad are subject to government approval.
Yet weapons exports have been a source of conflict in the current ruling coalition between Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the social democrats.
In June 2019, Berlin agreed to impose an almost total ban on sales of small arms to countries outside the EU and NATO.
© Agence France-Presse