German weapons manufacturer Sig Sauer has been accused of illegally exporting tens of thousands of pistols to Colombia. Authorities have charged managers with violating Germany's foreign trade regulations.
The public prosecutor's office in Kiel, northern Germany, on Thursday confirmed it had charged five managers of arms producer Sig Sauer for delivering guns to Colombia without authorization.
The case relates to over 36,000 pistols, manufactured by the company in the Baltic coast town of Eckernförde, that ended up in the hands of Colombian police via a subsidiary in the United States, a spokesman for the prosecutor said.
Read more: German arms exports: What you need to know
If convicted, the suspects face up to five years in prison. The prosecution is also demanding the company pay a €12-million ($14.8 million) fine.
Sig Sauer said in a statement it was aware of the charges "for violating the Foreign Trade Act," but added that it remained firmly convinced its "exports to the United States have always complied with the law."
No permit for trade with Colombia
The prosecutor in Kiel began investigating Sig Sauer in 2014 when the allegations first came to light. According to authorities, the arms manufacturer delivered around 70,000 SP2022 pistols to its US sister company, Sig Sauer Inc., between 2009 and 2012.
The weapons were supposedly destined for the American market. But more than half of them allegedly ended up in the hands of Colombian police as part of an initiative by the administration of former President Barack Obama to support the country's fight against drug-related crime.
German weapons exports must be approved by the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control. Authorities said Germany would never have authorized such a transfer to Colombia at the time because of the then-ongoing civil war — something the prosecution in Kiel alleges Sig Sauer's management would have been aware of.
Sig Sauer, Germany's oldest arms manufacturer, builds rifles and pistols for hunting, the military and police.
nm/ng (AFP, dpa)