28 April 2014
Minister for Foreign Trade acknowledges involvement of Dutch firms in Syrian chemical weapons programme
In a letter that was sent to the Dutch House of Representatives by the Minister for Foreign Trade, Lilianne Ploumen, it was acknowledged that Syria bought resources for its chemical weapons programme from two Dutch companies.
A year ago, the NRC Handelsblad revealed that, after a warning by the United States in 2003, the Netherlands feared that the Syrian government had imported glycol from the Netherlands in order to use it as a resource for poison gas. The export of glycol to Syria continued for years after the warning, at the time when it did not fall under an export license duty yet. Only after the disclosure by the NRC Handelsblad, the Minister decided to constrain the export of glycol.
However, in October 2013, Syria became a member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and had to provide insight into its chemical weapons programme. It now has admitted that in the period between 2002 and 2006 a total of 218 tons of glycol were imported from the Netherlands for the purpose of the chemical weapons programme. Furthermore, in 2002, a Dutch firm sold six Teflon pumps to Syria to be used for its chemical weapons programme. These were subject to an export license duty, which had not been applied for however. According to Ministry of Justice this infringement is too old to prosecute.
It is still unclear how the resources have been used for the Syrian chemical weapons programme. Glycol can be used to manufacture poison gas, but it also serves as an antifreeze. A member of the House of Representatives, Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, wants to know whether the glycol and Teflon pumps were used for the gas attacks that took place last year. He stated that this may be difficult to trace due to the civil war, but that the Netherlands has the obligation to start an investigation. The letter from Ploumen does not say whether the Netherlands will start an investigation into the matter.