Authorities in Germany did not authorize chemical material exports by German companies to Syria, which were believed to have been used by the Syrian regime to carry out chemical attacks against civilians, a source at the German Foreign Ministry told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The source said the public prosecutor in the western German city of Essen opened an investigation into whether the companies that sent the materials to associates of the Assad regime had broken European sanctions.
The German authorities remain vigilant about this type of exports and are well aware of the risks associated with the use of chemical weapons in Syria, so the export of dual-use chemicals is subject to European sanctions, explained the source.
German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung has revealed that a number of German companies sold substances to a company in Syria that could go into chemical weapons.
The newspaper named in its report the world’s largest chemicals distributor, Germany’s Brenntag, saying it sold chemical raw materials to a Syrian pharmaceutical company.
The report stated that through a Swiss subsidiary, Brenntag supplied chemicals diethylamine and isopropanol in 2014 to Syrian drugmaker Mediterranean Pharmaceutical Industries (MPI) to produce a pain killer.
Although these materials can be used in manufacturing drugs, they are also used in producing chemical weapons such as sarin gas which the Syrian regime used in Khan Sheikhoun in 2017, killing dozens.
The United Nations has counted 32 chemical attacks by the Syrian regime against civilians.
Prosecutors in Essen, where Brenntag is headquartered, announced they have initiated legal proceedings and are considering to open a formal investigation.
Shares in Brenntag fell about 6 percent on Wednesday after the report that the company sold products to a firm in Syria.
Traders cited concern about the risk of political repercussions in the United States for the German group, which has a global workforce of more than 16,600 people, according to Reuters.
Brenntag implicated a Swiss pharmaceutical company without naming it when it said in a statement that the Syrian company, which bought the chemicals, was making painkillers under license for “a well-known Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer”.
Swiss drug-maker Novartis said it had granted MPI contract manufacturing and local distribution rights for products such as pain relief skin gel Voltaren.
Reuters said Novartis noted that while it supplied the active ingredient for the product in 2014, it was MPI’s responsibility to procure other ingredients such as isopropanol or diethylamine and that the Swiss group played no role in that.
Prosecutors in Essen confirmed they had received a complaint about the company from three non-governmental organizations including Berlin-based Syrian Archive established by Hadi al-Khatib in 2011.
Brenntag confirmed to Sueddeutsche Zeitung that isopropanol and diethylamine were delivered to Syria via its subsidiary Brenntag Schweizerhall AG, "in accordance with applicable law".
“Delivery of both products was made in accordance with applicable law,” Brenntag said in its statement.
Formal authorization has been required since 2012 for exports of diethylamine, and since 2013 for isopropanol, meaning the permit requirements were issued when the company exported the chemicals to Syria.
Germany’s Federal Office of Economics and Export Control, which is responsible for approving such exports, said that it had not issued any permits for those chemicals during the period in question.