SIG Sauer CEO Avoids Jail Time For Role in Illegal Arms Shipment

Apr 3, 2019

Investigators leave arms manufacturer Sig Sauer with boxes full of seized material in Eckernfoerde, Germany, 03 July 2014.
Credit Getty Images/NHPR

Court officials in Germany announced Wednesday that Ron Cohen, CEO of Newington-based gun maker SIG Sauer, will avoid jail time for his role in an illegal shipment of 38,000 pistols sent to Colombia.

Cohen, along with two co-defendants, were accused by German prosecutors of breaking that country’s export laws by covering up the final destination of the weapons. In exchange for admitting his involvement in the scheme, Cohen was given an 18-month prison sentence, with all of that time suspended. He was also fined $675,000. His co-defendants, both based in Germany, received lighter sentences.

SIG Sauer’s German division is also ordered to repay more than $12 million. (The gunmakers are both owned by a German conglomerate, L & O Holding.)

Anti-arms activists in Germany are expressing mixed reactions to the terms of the deal. Holger Rothbauer, an attorney with the group Action Outcry--Stop the Arms Trade, says he is disappointed Cohen wasn't given prison time, but believes the substantial fines will serve as "a huge signal to the arms industry in Germany" to comply with the country's export laws.

The case centers on a 2009 deal in which SIG won a $300 million contract to ship model SP2022 pistols to the national police force of Colombia. Prosecutors believe the company lacked production capacity at its facility in Exeter, and turned to its sister-entity in Eckernforde, Germany, for assistance.

The company didn’t disclose to German export officials the final destination of the weapons, however, in part because it likely would not have been granted permission. It is illegal under German law to export weapons into an active conflict zone, including Colombia.

The case first made headlines in Germany in 2014, when whistleblowers released evidence showing that the guns were bound for Colombia despite “end use” certificates stating the final destination was the United States. In October 2018, Cohen was arrested upon arrival at an airport in Frankfurt, and detained for approximately 10 days before securing release on a reported multi-million bond.

SIG Sauer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The company, which has become the county’s largest exporter of weapons, is not facing any charges in the U.S. over the sale to Colombia.

[This story may be updated as more information becomes available.]