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[ cerca in archivio ] ARCHIVIO STORICO RADICALE
Conferenza Partito radicale
Cicciomessere Roberto - 9 febbraio 1991
(10) THE POISON GAS CONNECTION
Western suppliers of unconventional weapons and technologies to Iraq and Libya

A Special Report Commisioned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Prepared by Kenneth R. Timmerman

II Libya

Introduction

Libya has benefitted almost as much as Iraq from a "special relationship" with West Germany. In the 1970s, West German engineers from MBB set up the Otrag group, an engineering company much like Consen, devoted to building a medium-range ballistic missile in Libya. Indeed, the Otrag test range, located near the desert town of Sebha, has since been converted to chemical weapons productions - again with West German help.

It was Libya's construction of a poison gas plant at Rabta more than anything else (including Iraq's use of poison gas during the Iran-Iraq war) that drew international attention to the problems of CW proliferation in the Middle East.

The outlines of the Rabta story have been widely reported in the international press. For this reason we shall only summarize the Rabta affair in the account below. Instead, we shall focus on the political question of what the West German government knew about the sale of CW technology to Libya, and when they knew it.

The involvement of a wide ranging-network of West German companies in the construction of the Rabta complex became an acute embarrassment to the Kohl government, and led to the disclosure of one of the most extraordinary public documents ever released. We shall draw extensively from the Schauble report, which reveals previously classified information developed by the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and other agencies, in the account below. It is a story of duplicity, willfull blindness, and outright lying.

A. Quiet beginnings

At the State Department briefing on Wednesday, September 14, 1988 Spokesman Charles E. Redman was prepared to launch a bomb.

It may be that Redman and his superiors in the Reagan Administration really believed the West German and Japanese governments would own up to the fault the State Department was about to ascribe to them, and quietly clean up their act. If so, they were mistaken. For when Redman announced that the United States had concluded that Libya ha the ability to produce chemical weapons and was about to begin manufacturing poison gas, the reply from Tokyo and Bonn was unanimous: silence.46

More details were provided in an NBC News broadcast that evening: The American network revelaed that Libya planned to make nerve gas and would soon be producing mustard gas at a plant 80 kilometers south of Tripoli. It was the beginning of the Rabta affair.

Over the next days, U.S. officials said they had expressed concern to Japan that a Japanese company might have been involved in building the poison gas plant. In Tokyo, the daily Mainichi Shimbum named the potential offender as the Japan Steel Works, a member of the Mitsui Group.

But it took several weeks before unnamed West German companies were fingered publicly. And it wasn't until January 1, 1989 that the name of Imhausen-Chemie was first mentioned as the prime contractor of the "Pharma-150 Pharmaceuticals" plant, in Rabta, Libya47.

B. THE STORM ERUPTS

The West German Government publicly expressed irritation over what it considered to be the American "leaks". In a January 4, 1989 report in the Washington Post, unnamed West German officials acknowledged that they had launched an investigation into five West German firms after CIA representatives told Bonn officials on December 22 that the five had participated in the Rabta project. "But the Bonn government has been frustrated by the lack of information provided by United States, which so far has amounted only to two spy satellite photographs and the names of the companies, according to an official", the Post account read. The West German "official" added: "We have asked for more." (48)

The same day, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher added his voice to the chorus of complaint. Bonn had "no evidence" proving a West German company had helped Libya build a poison gas plant, the Associated Press reported from Bonn.(49) A spokesman for M. Genscher said that West Germany had asked the United States for "additional material" to back up its assertions. Helmut Kohl later complained about the American mud-slinging campaign. "This is no way to treat friends".(50)

Only on January 12, 1989 did the West German authorities manage to seize twelve boxes of documents containing some of the Rabta contracts from the offices of an Iraqi-born middleman, Ihsan Barbouti. Barbouti's IBI Engineering was said to have orchestrated the international procurement effort for the Rabta plant, and may have played a role in Iraqi CW procurement schemes as well. He has since disappeared.

An investigation by Business Week showed that the President of Imhausen, Dr. Jurgen Hippenstiel-Imhausen, had taken an old-timer's black market route. To sell poison gas to libya, he had gone through Hong Kong, where he set up a shell company called Pen-Tsao-Materia-Medica-Center Ltd.(51) A wide net of European and American companies was subsequently proved to have provided critical help for the plant, including:

- Preussag (FRG)

- Pilot Plant (FRG)

- Karl Kolb (FRG)

- IBI/Ihsan Barbouti International (FRG)

- IBI Engineering (FRG)

- Philips Petroleum (belgium)

- De Dietrich (France)

Karl Kolb, Preussag, and Pilot Plant were all familiar because of their dealings with Iraq. Philips was shown to have delivered Thiodyglycol, a direct mustard gas precursor, while De Dietrich provided the glass-lined reactor vessels needed to mix the deadly brew. In Japan, Mitsubishi provided a metal working plant for the manufacture of howitzer shells and packing them with CW agents, while the Japan Steel Works provided machinery and equipment to outfit the plant.

As the story unravelled, Chancellor Kohl's discomfort deepened. Finally, even George Bush tried to bail him out. "I have never doubted Chancellor Kohl's commitment to the control and elimination of chemical weapons," he said.(52)

Mr Bush's remarks were diplomatic to the extreme. Why they were, and just how mach the West German government knew about the Rabta Project was revealed in the Schauble report.

C. THE SCHAUBLE REPORT

Wolfgang Schauble's official title was Federal Minister for Special Tasks and Chief of the Federal Chancellery. In fact, he was Helmut Kohl's principle troubleshooter, especially once it became apparent that vital information developed by West German intelligence on the Rabta case had not reached the West German Chancellor in time, because it had been blocked by his deputy for Security Affairs, State Secretary Waldma Schrekenberger. (53)

Schauble presented his report to the Bundestag on February 17, 1989, two days after it had been adopted by the German Federal Government. It includes a detailed chronology of what the various West German intelligence services knew about the Libyan poison gas project as early as April 1980, and shows that Imhausen-Chemie was clearly identified as a potential supplier to the Rabta plant on July 5, 1985. Although the Schauble report attempts to innocent the West German government of any responsability, it is a stirring exposè of the kind of willful blindness that has characterized German attitudes toward poison gas from the very start.

The following remarks are drawn from the Report's preamble:

"Only the information which the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) received on 15 july 1988 was substantial enough to justify preliminaruy investigations of Imhausen's involvement. The Customs Criminological institute (ZKI) immediately began those Investigations after the information had been evaluated by the BND."

In other words, five mounths before the U.S. blew the whistle, not only did the West German government know that Libya was building a poison gas plant, but it had substantial evidence proving the involvment of a West German company. And yet, Chancellor Khol and his Foreign Minister still pleaded ignorance.

"Previous information relating to the possible involvment of German firms," the report goes on, "had been extremely vague and offered no basis for further investigations. Moreover, the reports differed. Some contained rumours about the possible involvment of German firms (e.g. on 27 January 1988), others suggested that, judging by what was known at the time, probably no German firms were involved in the construction if the chemical weapons facility".

The good news was that probably no West German firms were involved in the construction of Libya's poison gas plant. That was reason enough not to investigation further, Schauble argues.

"In a democratic country which respects the rule of law, mere suspicion is not sufficient grounds for legal steps against individuals or companies who may have been involved in the building of a chemical weapons plant in Libya or in any other Libyan activities in the field of armaments. There has to be a conclusive evidence. This also applies to public statements by the Federal Government. A person must not be exposed to the danger of being judged in advance, with all possible personal and economic consequences".

This passage is a virtual "green light" to any company wishing to help build a chemical weapons plant in Libya, Iraq, or anywhere else, to hide their tracks and hope for the best. "There has to be conclusive evidence"- a few thousand corpses strewn on a Middle East battlefield, such as occured in Iraq?- before the Federal government will intervene.

Schauble's presentation is legalistic, and rightly so. He continues: "Up to 13 January 1989, the ZKI and other customs authorities could merely confirm that Inhausen or firms linked with it

-had probaly sent engineers to Libya,

-had delivered to Hong Kong a control unit as well as

know-how, blueprints and plans for the construction of a pharmaceutical factory. These items might have been reconsigned to Libya. However, at that time no licence was required for the export of the control Unit, even to Libya. Under the existing regulations, the export of know-how for the construction of the chemical facilities specified in Part 1, Section D is likewise not subject to a licence. And as far as the presence of German engineers and technicians in Libya is concerned, their involvment in the construction of chemical weapons facilities abroad. either in the form of physical work or of technical consultancy, does not constitute a breach of the law."

All in all, the Schauble Report is a remarkable and frank presentation. It unabashedly reveals the shortcomings of West Germany's legal framework, and suggested how similar cases could occur elsewhere.

(CONTINUED)

 
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