You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Europe questions Spanish arms sales

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The head of a European Parliament commission has asked for a probe into whether the Spanish government violated EU rules with its sale of defense equipment and other dual-use materials to Venezuela.

European officials and Spanish opposition leaders are particularly concerned about the sale to President Hugo Chavez's government of two dual-use chemicals -- sodium sulfite and hydrogen fluoride.

The former is commonly used in leather tanning and the paper industry but can also be used to make mustard gas, which was used with devastating effect in World War I.

Hydrogen fluoride has many innocent uses in the oil refining and petrochemical industries but also plays a key role in the production of sarin nerve gas and in uranium refinement.

Spain also sold Venezuela various forms of "paramilitary or security materials," according to a forthcoming report from the country's Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce (MITC).

The report, a copy of which was leaked to Europa Press, notes that the dual-use chemicals could be used "in the fabrication of [biological and chemical] weapons of mass destruction," including "biological and radioactive materials and nerve agents for chemical warfare."

The report placed the total value of dual-use chemicals sold to Venezuela in 2003 and the first half of 2004 at about $40,000 and of security materials at more than $650,000.

The report identified the chemicals only as "toxicological agents and radioactive materials." The exact nature of the chemicals was provided in an interview with MITC licensing officer Antonio Seguro.

Another MITC official said the paramilitary equipment included a key component of tear gas.

Spain's secretary of state of tourism and commerce, Pedro Mejia, recently testified to the parliament's defense commission about the sales, which are being reported for the first time under a new Spanish transparency law.

Members of the opposition Popular Party, which shares the Bush administration's deep suspicion of the Chavez government, questioned at that time whether "each and every one" of the sales complied with the European Union's Code of Conduct.

Parliament has asked the defense and foreign affairs ministers to testify further about the sales next month, and Karl von Wogau, president of the European Parliament's Commission on Security and Defense, also has asked for an investigation.

"The Venezuelans have legitimate needs for what some call precursor chemicals, as they need them in their petroleum, steel and aluminum industries. Unfortunately, those same chemicals can be used for chemical weapons," said J. Michael Waller, a professor at the Institute of World Politics in Washington.