Corruption in the gun trade hits home
Legal and illegal gun sales raise questions about export laws
In 2017, Patricia Hall-Cloutier was directing the export compliance unit of gun producer Sig Sauer Inc. in Newington, NH. Throughout her less than two years at the company, she reported multiple violations of U.S. gun export license laws by Sig officials.
In June 2017, she noticed an invoice for a license to export weapons to Indonesia with a manually created invoice altering the recipient of the guns. When she reported the violation to her supervisors, she was summarily fired, according to a lawsuit she filed later that year. Two months later, Sig Sauer shipped more than $5 million worth of military weapons, handguns and components to Indonesia, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
The diversion of weapons Hall-Cloutier reported was not the first time Sig Sauer had allegedly violated gun export rules. Last year, Sig Sauer CEO Ron Cohen was arrested at the Frankfurt airport in Germany for alleged involvement in an illegal delivery of 38,000 pistols to Colombia between 2009 and 2012. Part of a larger shipment from Sig Sauer’s German parent company to its U.S. branch, the pistols were exported to Colombia for use by National Police, which violated German law because of stipulations about shipping guns to countries with documented human rights violations. Cohen later settled with prosecutors to pay large fines.
Much corruption within the gun trade is not explicitly illegal. In 2013, Ron Cohen contributed to the campaign of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who sits on the Senate committee that oversees U.S. weapons exports. She subsequently declined to sign on to legislation that would maintain congressional oversight on such exports.
The current administration’s stance on guns illustrates how the relationship between campaign finance, lobbying and policy recommendations works. As Donald Trump prepared to launch his presidential campaign, he visited Sig Sauer headquarters in New Hampshire. In July 2016, Sig Sauer donated $100,000 to #GunVote, a PAC that campaigned actively for Trump’s candidacy. In January 2017, Sig Sauer contracted with Bob Grand, an associate of Vice President Mike Pence, to lobby for U.S. firearms exports.
The Trump administration appears to be paying back for these in-kind donations by crippling the State Department agency responsible for reviewing and issuing weapons export licenses, and by seeking to reduce oversight for gun export licenses. These changes — all technically legal — will clearly benefit weapons companies like Sig Sauer, at the expense of those victimized by gun violence beyond U.S. borders.
Meanwhile, German customs officers who enforce laws against weapons trafficking have seen more than a dozen of their colleagues murdered, according to Holger Rothbauer, an attorney who represents a German peace group that filed suit against gun producers.
“In these kinds of businesses — if you call it a business — corruption is a must. Otherwise it doesn’t work.”
John Lindsay-Poland coordinates the Stop US Arms to Mexico project of Global Exchange.