German chemicals firm accused of selling sarin ingredient to Syria
Shares in German chemicals manufacturer Brenntag have dropped after a report that the company sold products to a firm in Syria that could be used in chemical weapons.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung said the Essen-based Brenntag, the world’s largest chemicals distributor, sold chemical raw materials to a Syrian pharmaceutical company.
Brenntag said a Swiss subsidiary legally supplied chemicals diethylamine and isopropanol in 2014 to Syrian drugmaker Mediterranean Pharmaceutical Industries (MPI) to make a pain killer.
The German group has a global workforce of more than 16,600.
The two substances can be used in pharmaceuticals but could also make the banned nerve agent sarin.
Swiss drugmaker Novartis said it had granted MPI contract manufacturing and distribution rights for products like the pain relief skin gel Voltaren.
Novartis said while it supplied the active ingredient for the product in 2014, it was MPI’s responsibility to procure other ingredients such as isopropanol or diethylamine.
The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs was handed manufacturing documents from MPI in May last year, Novartis added.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in March that government forces had carried out 32 of 37 chemical attacks it had reported during the Syrian war, including the use of chlorine and sarin. The Damascus regime denies using chemical weapons.
During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, German companies were paid to help construct chemical weapon factories, disguised as pesticide plants, for former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. According to the CIA, German companies “supervised the creation of what was at the time the world’s most modern and best-planned CW facility under the cover of pesticide production”. In 1984, a representative of the US State Department told the German embassy that the German firm Karl Kolb delivered “chemical research and production equipment for the manufacture of large quantities of nerve gas”.
The Federation of American Scientists and German scientists helped the operation to provide chemical weapons to Iraq, including mustard gas and cyanide acid.
Germany acknowledged that, between 2002 and 2006, it approved the export to Syria of more than 100 tonnes of dual-use chemicals, which included substances that could be used to make sarin.
Are German manufacturers profiting from Syria’s civil war misery? Picture credit: Pexels