Belgian military gear maker John Cockerill has been accused training Saudi soldiers to handle weapons used in the Saudi-led war that is devastating Yemen.
An investigation by Amnesty International found that the Belgian group was giving arms training to the Saudi army in one of their sites in the eastern French municipality of Commercy, located west of Nancy.
In 2018, the industrial machines and arms maker set up the site to “welcome Saudi military officers in four-star conditions” in the village of some 6,000, according to AI.
The investigation said that Cockerill signed a €4.5 billion contract in 2014 to equip 928 Canadian-made armoured vehicles for Riyad, in what the Belgian firm referred to as “the deal of the century,” AI wrote.
The deal also covered the creation of a specially-made simulation system and a training scheme for its future Saudi users.
The Belgian firm declined to comment on the findings of the AI investigation and said that contracts with the Saudi military were done in accordance with current laws, L’Echo reports, adding that the group also continued to deny that the arms they produced were used in Yemen.
As of March of this year, the Saudi onslaught on Iran-backed forces in Yemen had led to the death of over 112,000 Yemenis and displaced over 3 million.
The arrival of the company in Commercy in 2018, three years into a war that the United Nations has called the “worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world,” was facilitated by French officials who AI found had links with John Cockerill.
Cockerill’s CEO, Frenchman Bernard Serin and Gérard Longuet, who was defence minister in the administration of Nicolas Sarkozy, worked to get the company subsidies and “all kinds of state aid” in the name of “boosting the local economy,” AI wrote.
The newest accusations by AI come after Cockerill was caught in a media storm when a 2019 investigation uncovered evidence that their weapons were being used in the Saudi’s attacks on Yemen.
Despite attempts by the Belgian firm to deny the findings by arguing that its contracts with Saudi Arabia were for armoured vehicles to “protect members of the Saudi royal family and Saudi heritage sites”, evidence showed it was supplying the Saudis with guns to be mounted on the vehicles.
The findings led Belgium’s Council of State to order a temporary suspension of Cockerill’s arms-exports licences in two rulings in 2019 and 2020.