Arms firm profiting from refugee crisis paid for exclusive access to MSPs

An arms firm condemned for fuelling war in Africa and the Middle East and then profiting from the refugee crisis, paid for exclusive access to MSPs.

Airbus is a multinational which had privileged access to Scots politicians through its membership of a controversial organisation called the Scottish Parliament and Business Exchange (SPBE).

The French-German company has been condemned in a new report that says arms dealers are now making vast profits from the refugee crisis in Europe.

The report – Border Wars – criticises the border security market, a booming industry since the arrival in Europe of hundreds of thousands of refugees from places such as war-torn Syria and Iraq.

The report was produced by a Dutch organisation called Stop Wapenhandel and published by Transnational Institute.

It says that Airbus – the seventh largest arms producer in the world – is a major player in border security.

Airbus makes fighter jets, artillery systems, missiles and helicopters.

It also makes helicopters for the North Sea oil industry and its EC225 Super Puma type was grounded recently following a crash that claimed 13 lives off Norway.

Border Wars says that arms firms are reaping benefits from the refugee situation because of the European Union’s investment in “securing its borders”.

The report said: “They are the military and security companies that provide the equipment to border guards, the surveillance technology to monitor frontiers, and the IT infrastructure to track population movements. Most perverse of all, it shows that some of the beneficiaries of border security contracts are some of the biggest arms sellers to the Middle-East and North-African region, fuelling the conflicts that are the cause of many of the refugees.”

“In other words, the companies creating the crisis are then profiting from it . Moreover they have been abetted by European states who have granted the licences to export arms and have then granted them border security contracts to deal with the consequences.”

Airbus was condemned alongside firms such as Finmeccanica and Thales who both have premises in Scotland.

The report continued: “Airbus is also the number one winner of EU security research funding contracts. This report also shows how cynical this profiteering is, because this industry profits from both sides of the tragedy: first, from fuelling conflicts and chaos that force people to flee, and then again from trying to stop these refugees from finding safety and a liveable future.”

“Major European arms firms such as Airbus, Finmeccanica and Thales are some of the most prominent players in this theatre of inhumanity and violations of fundamental rights.”

Airbus products for border security measures range from helicopters to communication systems to radar.

The report says that the Airborne Unit of the German Federal Police operates 79 Airbus helicopters while the border guard of Belarus has four in use.

Airbus also developed the ‘Harfang’ drone which it promotes for border surveillance.

In March 2015 Airbus joined the SPBE, an organisation set up in 2001 to link businesses and Scots politicians.

The SPBE registered as a charity and claimed not to be a lobbying organisation but companies paid to sign up.

The SPBE website says that “membership rates are based on turnover” adding that services offered include the “opportunity to generate greater understanding of your business and sector amongst MSPs”.

Nestle, Pfizer, BP, Serco and Shell are listed as members but in March it was announced that Holyrood had cancelled its membership of SPBE, which is now winding down with a view to closing.

Mark Akkerman, of Stop Wapenhandel said: “The participation of Airbus in the Scottish Parliament and Business Exchange illustrates that the large arms companies I’ve investigated in my report aren’t just lobbying on EU level, but also try to influence national government and politicians in European countries.”

“Even though the lobbying by Airbus in Scotland is probably not focused on military or border security issues, I think the company’s business of fuelling conflicts and profiting from the refugee crisis should be reason enough to be very cautious about maintaining any relationship with it.”

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “Airbus is a major arms producer and has sold military equipment to regimes with appalling human rights records. The Eurofighter, which it has worked closely on, has been central to the Saudi-led devastation of Yemen.”

“Arms companies already have a totally disproportionate voice in the corridors of power. The Scottish Parliament should not be working with those that are arming human rights abusers and profiting from a humanitarian crisis.”

Airbus said: “Airbus Group works closely with many organisations to support the skills, innovation and manufacturing agenda. Membership of the SPBE is through Airbus Helicopters UK, an employer in the Oil and Gas sector in Aberdeen.”

Arthur McIvor, Chief Executive of the SPBE, said: “The Scottish Parliament & Business Exchange (SPBE) is a non-lobbying, non-partisan educational charity registered at the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR).”

“The role of the SPBE is to increase knowledge and understanding between organisations and MSPs. Airbus is a member of the organisation through Airbus Helicopters.”

Last year Airbus said that wars in the Middle East were boosting business.

A subsidiary of the firm is currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office over allegations of corruption. In 2012 the Serious Fraud Office opened an investigation into GPT Special Project Management after allegations of bribes to Saudi Arabian officials to win a contract for the Saudi National Guard.

The allegations surfaced in employment tribunal proceedings and were made by a former GPT employee who claimed Saudi officials were given luxury cars, jewellery and large sums of cash from London accounts through intermediaries.

The Serious Fraud Office said: “Our investigation into GPT Special Project Management is still live.”

A version of this story was published by the Sunday Mail on 10th July 2016.

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