By Leanne Quinn
German customs officials on Aug. 30 carried out seven search warrants on a network of German chemical companies suspected of violating export control permitting laws.
According to case documents viewed by German public broadcasters NDR and WDR and the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, investigators allege that, over the last three and a half years, chemical company Riol Chemie GmbH sent more than 30 shipments of dual-use toxic substances and laboratory equipment to Russia’s Chimmed Group without export permits, violating the German Foreign Trade Act.
The shipments were reported to include precursor chemicals that can be used in the production of banned chemical agents such as mustard gas and Novichok. Benedikt Strunz, one of the German broadcasters from NDR who broke the story, said in an interview published on Sept. 12 that the amounts of compounds shipped to Russia were too small for industrial production of those chemical agents. At this time, the intended purpose of the shipments is unknown. At least two other chemical companies and one export firm could also be implicated, Strunz said.
The new investigation comes after the managing director of a trading company in the German state of Saxony was indicted in February on suspicion of exporting dual-use chemicals to a Russian intelligence agency for the purpose of producing weapons of mass destruction.
The two cases underscore the importance of strong national laws that criminalize activities related to the proliferation of chemical weapons. Although research, production, and stockpiling of chemical weapons are banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), chemical weapons remain a threat in nations where treaty obligations have not been fully implemented.