A German court has given a man a suspended sentence for importing and failing to demilitarize two British tanks. The tanks were later revamped with rainbow paint for an anti-war art project by designer Harald Glööckler.
A 49-year-old man was given an eight-month suspended sentence on Monday for violating German law when he imported and neglected to demilitarize two British tanks in 2013.
The court in the western town of Bensheim found that the man broke Germany's law about the buying and selling of military weapons (or "Kriegswaffenkontrollgesetz") and ordered him to pay €2,000 ($2,357) to a charitable organization.
The case focused on two Combat Engineer Tractor FV 180 tanks — which are specifically classified as armored recovery vehicles as they are not outfitted with cannons.
"Who associates the term 'weapons of war' with vehicles that cannot shoot and also cannot discharge dangerous substances?" said Peter Gillert, the man's lawyer. "My client was unaware that they were weapons of war."
Read more: WWII bombs explode at North Sea wind farm
Tanks turned to art
The tanks look quite a bit different now than when they were first brought over to Germany.
They have been outfitted with rows of fake white spikes, rainbow paint on the wheels, fake "dummy cannons" and the colorful words "No War" thanks to German designer Harald Glööckler, who used them as part of an anti-war art project in 2013.
In its decision, the court emphasized that Glööckler had nothing to do with the case, as he never owned them, merely modifying them for arts' sake.
The defendant in Monday's case sold the two tanks to another buyer for €30,000. The new owner then allowed Glööckler to use them for an event entitled "Art Against War" at the Schönhagen airfield near Berlin.
Lacking guns, but still dangerous
The trouble started at the art show when the tanks' engines began to backfire, prompting experts to inspect the vehicles. It was then that they discovered the tanks had not been "demilitarized."
The combat vehicles were still in possession of their anti-gunfire and anti-artillery shrapnel tank walls.
On Monday, Judge Gerhard Schäfer said the defendant "readily accepted" that the military vehicles had not been properly demilitarized.
The judge recognized that the vehicles were only used as construction machines and not in active combat.
Despite their history and in spite of their design, they are still tanks, Schäfer said, noting that they were strong enough "that they could not be stopped by police on patrol."
Prosecutor Susanne Spandau emphasized that the defendant knew from the beginning that the tanks were still in possession of their thick, protective walls and hull.
"He wanted to make a good deal and hoped nobody would notice," Spandau said.