Finmeccanica sold radio equipment to Syria: report

ROME Thu Jul 5, 2012 4:37pm EDT

ROME (Reuters) - A unit of Italian defense technology group Finmeccanica sold sophisticated communications equipment to Syrian police as recently as February, an Italian weekly reported on Thursday, quoting emails published by Wikileaks.

According to l'Espresso, Finmeccanica's Selex Elsag unit sold Syrian authorities its Tetra mobile communications equipment, a system used by military, police and emergency services as well as companies and other organizations.

Tetra allows secure, encrypted communications from vehicles and helicopters. L'Espresso said the technology was classified as "dual use" for civil and military, but the company said in a statement it was designed and sold for civil use only.

The technology "was designed for use by emergency responders," the company said. The Tetra technology "was conceived for this function," it said.

The sale of the Tetra technology by the Selex Elsag unit was fully lawful and took place before the outbreak of conflict inside Syria, Finmeccanica said.

L'Espresso said Syrian authorities originally signed a 40 million euro ($50 million) contract for the equipment in 2008 but increased the order last year following the outbreak of clashes between security forces and rebels.

The European Union has imposed extensive sanctions on the Syrian government, and the Italian government has repeatedly condemned its violent repression of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

L'Espresso said the Wikileaks emails showed that Selex had sold 500 radio sets through the Syrian unit of a Greek company called Intracom-Telecom, which delivered the equipment to police in the Damascus suburb of Muadamia in May 2011.

The emails showed that Syrian authorities asked to increase the size of the order by 25 percent and that in July 2011, Selex said that it would consider the request. Subsequent efforts by Syria to speed up delivery of the Tetra equipment were delayed by the need to secure government authorization.

L'Espresso said the most recent email showed that engineers from Selex arrived in Damascus as recently as February to train technicians from Intracom-Telecom's local unit Intracom Syria in equipment for use in helicopters terminals.

It did not say whether the helicopters were for military or civilian use.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; editing by Andrew Roche and Pravin Char)