AP: Austrian authorities have approved the export of 30,000 handguns to Iran, local media reported Friday, days after a report that sophisticated Austrian rifles were finding their way into the hands of Iraqi insurgents. Associated Press
VIENNA, Austria (AP) – Austrian authorities have approved the export of 30,000 handguns to Iran, local media reported Friday, days after a report that sophisticated Austrian rifles were finding their way into the hands of Iraqi insurgents.
Austrian media reported the pistols had been sold to Iran’s interior ministry, which is in charge of the police force.
Austrian economic ministry officials told state radio that their ministry had approved the sale of the “Glock” pistols last month, saying Iranian authorities had provided documentary evidence that they would not be passed on to others.
Another request for the weapons from the Iranian army was denied after it refused to give such assurances, said the officials, adding such sales to police were allowed under legislation governing the export of weapons.
The sales were first reported by the Austria Press Agency Friday, citing a story in preliminary copies of Saturday’s edition of the daily “Oesterreich.” After-hours phone calls to the ministry were not answered.
On Tuesday, Britain’s “Daily Telegraph reported that American troops have recovered more than 100 “Steyr .50 HS” rifles in Iraq, part of an Austrian consignment of 800 such weapons delivered to Iran over American protests that they could be given to insurgents,
The Austrian government approved the sale of the rifles, made by precision weapons maker Steyr Mannlicher GmbH, after it concluded in 2004 that they would be used to fight narcotics smugglers.
“We checked the proposal very thoroughly,” Austrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Astrid Harz said, noting that the situation in Iraq and the region in 2003-2004 was very different then it is today. “What happened to the weapons then is the responsibility of the Iranians.”
In comments to The Associated Press at the time, former Steyr owner Wolfgang Fuehrlinger said U.S. Embassy officials had expressed concerns that the rifles could be used against American troops in Iraq, adding that he had rebuffed a request to stop such sales.
The 12.7 x 99 mm rifles are about 1.2 meters (4 feet) long, weigh more than 12 kilograms (20 pounds) and count as an anti-armor weapon among experts because of the high punch of its projectile, Fuehrlinger said.
Franz Holzschuh, Steyr’s CEO, said Tuesday the company had not officially been contacted by anyone to verify the serial numbers on the rifles. He said there was a possibility the weapons were reproductions and that there were “thousands” of these in circulation.
“Fact is, we never delivered to Iraq,” he said.
The U.S. imposed sanctions on Steyr in December 2005, forbidding it from obtaining U.S. export licenses to do business in America. The Austrian government condemned the decision at the time, saying it made no sense to punish the company after the fact.
Holzschuh said there were still U.S. sanctions against his company.