Egypt Papers

Government says unaware of Lux company role in Egypt civilian killings

Foreign affairs minister Jean Asselborn says Luxembourg not complicit in Egypt Papers’ scandal.  Jan Hanrion / Maison Moderne

Foreign affairs minister Jean Asselborn says Luxembourg not complicit in Egypt Papers’ scandal.  Jan Hanrion / Maison Moderne

Foreign minister Jean Asselborn (LSAP) says the government didn’t know about the involvement of a Luxembourg-based aviation company in crimes committed against Libyan civilians revealed this week.

Investigative news site Disclose in revelations dubbed the Egypt Papers said France in 2016 had started a secret mission--operation Sirli--on the Egyptian-Libyan border to help the Egyptian state combat alleged terrorist groups. However, as Disclose reveals, Egypt used the surveillance information provided by the French military intelligence to execute civilians suspected of smuggling.

Luxembourg-based aviation company CAE Aviation provided a Merlin III lightweight surveillance plane for the mission as well as two pilots and four analysts, who had served in the French army before joining the private sector.

Asselborn in answer to a parliamentary question said the government didn’t know about the operation or that CAE Aviation had a contract with France to provide materiel and staff. The minister said the state had no responsibility for the actions perpetrated by CAE Aviation on the Egypt-Libya territory after lawmakers invoked a UN resolution on the responsibility of states for internationally wrongful acts.

Under a Luxembourg law, companies must request export permission for products related to defence or security. But Asselborn said this law doesn’t apply in the case of CAE Aviation and that it was up to France to investigate the misuse of the intelligence by Egypt to harm civilians.

France’s armed forces minister on Monday called for an investigation. Disclose said at least 19 bombings against civilians took place based on the intelligence provided by France to Cairo.

This is not the first time the foreign affairs minister has been asked about due diligence legislation for companies based in Luxembourg. The government has been under public scrutiny due to the Pegasus Papers, which had revealed that Israeli surveillance group NSO’s spyware had been used to spy on several journalists and politicians.

The company has back offices based in Luxembourg, but Asselborn at the time had also rejected Luxembourg’s responsibility in the affair, insisting that an EU-wide law on due diligence rather than a national one should be developed.

This article was updated on 26 November to clarify that the company in question is CAE Aviation.