Human Rights Watch has found paperwork in Libya showing South African armoury Truvelo supplied sniper rifles to the government of Muammar Gaddafi in 2009.
A document, purporting to be a packing list dated December 3, 2009, shows at least five Truvelo CMS 7.62x51mm NATO sniper rifles were shipped to Tripoli by Truvelo Armoury Manufacturers of Midrand.
Transitional National Council soldiers seized one such rifle in June this year. South Africa’ Business Day nwspaper, which posted the document on its website, says at the time, Truvelo CE Ralf Gebert refused to comment on the company’s transactions with Libya. “There are procedures in SA we are following. We adhere to the rules and regulations and that is that. We are not prepared to say yes or no,” he told the Afrikaans Sunday broadsheet. The document is signed by Gebert.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe in March confirmed South Africa exported military equipment worth some R80.9 million to Libya in the years between 2003 and 2009. Radebe, speaking replying in his capacity as chairman of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), told the National Assembly this included shotguns, military vehicles, ammunition, parachutes and night vision equipment. A further question regarding the export of 100 sniper rifles and 50 000 rounds of ammunition last year was not answered.
Opposition Democratic Alliance party’s shadow for defence, David Maynier, in February said he understood the rifles and ammunition may have been exported to Libya late last year. “The company alleged to have exported the sniper rifles and ammunition not only lists Libya as a target market in Africa, but also exhibited sniper rifles at an arms fair in Libya in 2008,” he said. “We understand that the export of the sniper rifles and ammunition was authorised by the NCACC.”
Maynier did not name the company, but it is known several South African companies have taken part in recent editions of the Libyan Aviation Exhibition (LAVEX) and the Libyan Defence, Safety and Security Exhibition (LIBDEX). The website of Truvelo, the manufacturer of high-accuracy rifles, notes they attended the 2008 edition of LIBDEX.
Radebe had in February stated SA had sold weapons to Libya, but declined to specify what, citing contractual commercial confidentiality. He added that there is no evidence at the time that any of the equipment had been used by Libyan government forces to kill civilians. “In 2010 the NCACC duly authorised arms trade between South African companies operating in defence-related industry and the Republic of Libya. A number of other transactions were also considered at that time,” the NCACC said in a statement.
According to international news reports civilians have been shot dead during protests an funerals with sniper rifles on several occasions since the start of civil conflict in the north African state in February. United Nations Children’s Fund spokeswoman Marixie Mercado reportedly told the paper women and children were a common deliberate target.
In a statement in June Maynier said he would hand a copy of the video material showing the captured weapon to the Public Protector “who is in the process of investigating the possible illegal sale of sniper rifles and ammunition to Libya in 2010.” Maynier added the “law regulating the conventional arms trade in South Africa states that we will not trade in conventional arms with states engaged in repression, aggression or terrorism. The Public Protector will hopefully go through the NCACC’s bottom draws and determine how it is that we exported highly lethal conventional weapons such as sniper rifles to a repressive regime like Libya. The fact is that the sniper rifles and ammunition should never have been sold to Libya. We cannot sit back and allow South Africa to become an armoury for dictators around the world.”
The document on Business Day’s website is sub-headed “box 21 of 28”. It is not known what were in the other 27 boxes. The serial numbers of the rifles known to have been shipped are TRV2713, TRV2714, TRV2715, TRV2716 and TRV2717. Also in the 1550x900x550 packing case was five magazines, five aluminium carrying cases, five carrying bags, cleaning kits, lenspins, extractor kits, technical and operations manuals as well as telescope booklets.
Truvelo was formed in the mid-1960s by Franz Josef Gebert, who ran the company until his death in 2009. The armoury division was formed in 1994.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) earlier this month fingered VASTech SA Pty Ltd, along with Amesys, a unit of French technology firm Bull and Chinese telecom company ZTE Corporation as supplying telephone surveillance technology to the Gaddafi dictatorship, which used it to keep tabs on its citizens.
VASTech provided the regime with tools to tap and log all the international phone calls going in and out of the country, according to emails reviewed by the paper and people familiar with the matter.
The WSJ adds it encountered the VASTech technology at Libya’s international phone switch, where telephone calls exit and enter the country. A group of Gaddafi’s security agents staffed a room there and captured roughly 30 to 40 million minutes of mobile and landline conversations a month. These could be archived for years, a source told the paper.
Andre Scholtz, sales and marketing director for VASTech, declined to comment on the Libya installation, citing confidentiality agreements. The firm sells only “to governments that are internationally recognized by the UN and are not subject to international sanctions,” Scholtz said in a statement. “The relevant UN, U.S. and EU rules are complied with.”
The precise details of VASTech’s setup in Libya are unclear, the WSJ added. VASTech says its interception technology is used to fight crimes like terrorism and weapons smuggling. A description of the company’s Zebra brand surveillance product, prepared for a trade show, says it “captures and stores massive volumes of traffic” and offers filters that agents can use to “access specific communications of interest from mountains of data.” Zebra also features “link analysis,” the description says, a tool to help agents identify relationships between individuals based on analysis of their calling patterns.
Capabilities such as these helped Libya sow fear as the country erupted in civil war earlier this year. Anti-Gadhafi street demonstrators were paranoid of being spied on or picked up by the security forces, as it was common knowledge that the regime tapped phones. Much of the early civil unrest was organised via Skype, which activists considered safer than Internet chatting. But even then they were scared.
The company was started in 1999 by Frans Dreyer, the brother of Democratic Alliance MP Anchen Dreyer. He was killed in May last year when Afriqiyah Airways flight 771 from Johannesburg to Tripoli crashed, killing 103 people. ITWeb reported at the time that VASTech had boosted its turnover from R570 a year when it was launched in 1999 to more than R30 million in 2005-2006. The company was also an original supplier of manufacturing equipment to Siemens in Germany. In 2006 Dreyer said that he believed Zebra was the best technology of its kind in the world.
Libya went on a surveillance-gear shopping spree after the international community lifted trade sanctions in exchange for Gaddafi handing over the suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 and ending his weapons of mass destruction programme. For global makers of everything from snooping technology to passenger jets and oil equipment , ending the trade sanctions transformed his regime from pariah state to coveted client.
iWeek has reported that VASTech has also sold its technology to the South African government in 2005 under a three-year contract for a “recording solution”. VASTech also refused to elaborate on this contract.