It concerns the company Visser BV from Leeuwarden. Although the traditional Dutch name suggests otherwise, the company was taken over in 2013 by CIMC, a Chinese state-owned company. A Chinese director is at the helm of Visser BV, according to research by RTL Nieuws in collaboration with Follow the Money.
The fact that the risks of the Chinese takeover of this company by the Ministry of Defense have not been recognized is a matter of great concern to former Army Commander Mart de Kruif. “There should have been a safety check first.” Security expert Danny Pronk calls it ‘bad’ that no risk assessment was carried out after the takeover to see whether the information held by the company is still safe.
China is aiming to become the largest military power in the world. The communist superpower is increasingly coming into conflict with the West, our intelligence services write in their annual reports. Just last November, the services warned the defense industry against ‘sabotage and espionage’ by China in a threat assessment.
Makes opponent smarter
China now knows what our armored vehicles look like inside and how the equipment works. “This makes your possible opponent smarter,” says security expert Danny Pronk. “They can then take countermeasures. I actually think it’s naive. It’s as if there has been a blind spot for the risk of espionage.”
“If you can see the drawings of the Bushmaster or a Boxer, you have access to the information that goes with it. You shouldn’t want that. Someone should have woken up,” says Mart de Kruif.
The Frisian company is the market leader in the Netherlands in building ambulances. But the company has been designing and building the interiors of armored vehicles for Defense since 2003. To carry out this work, the Ministry of Defense shares a lot of information with Visser. The company will have access to construction drawings of the vehicles, information about the equipment that will be installed and the position of the machine guns on the car.
Driving conning tower
In the first instance it was about designing and fitting out armored vehicles for transporting the wounded. Later other types were added, such as the Boxer Command Post.
That vehicle acts as a moving conning tower on the battlefield. “It has technology on board that allows you to see exactly where your own units are, where the enemy is. In fact, all the information you need for the fight is shared,” says Mart de Kruif. “The last thing you want is for others to see it.”
Another striking vehicle built in Visser BV’s garage is a high-tech Bushmaster ‘for electronic warfare’.
It has so-called ‘jammer equipment’ on board, which can be used to protect military vehicles against attacks by drones or explosives that are detonated remotely. The equipment interferes with the signal used to control the drones or explosive devices remotely.
The Bushmaster can eavesdrop on or disrupt enemy radio traffic. The first ‘Bushmaster 2.0’ was handed over to Defense in 2020. The Dutch army has about two hundred Boxers and over a hundred Bushmasters.
The originally Frisian family business Visser BV has been owned since 1999 by Ziegler GmbH, a German company that builds fire engines. In 2013, Ziegler was acquired by CIMC for 55 million euros. That is a huge Chinese company of which the Chinese state owns 54 percent of the shares. Thanks to the takeover, the Chinese now have all the technical knowledge of the Boxer and Bushmaster that Visser has at their disposal in one fell swoop.
Notification or not?
Not a single alarm bell is ringing at Defense in our country. No risk analysis has been carried out for the new owner either, because it was not seen as necessary, the Ministry of Defense told RTL News. Director of Visser BV, Taeke de Jong, says that the takeover was reported to Defense at the time. “But the Ministry of Defense has not responded or taken any action,” says De Jong. Defense says, after questions from RTL Nieuws, that it knows nothing about that report.
Experts are looking for the reason why no bell has rung at Defense in years of cutbacks on Defense. “The armed forces are rattling in their bones and you can see that here,” says Mart de Kruif.
To prevent sensitive military knowledge from flowing abroad, the Ministry of Defense has strict requirements for defense companies and their personnel. Before Defense teams up with a company, the Industrial Security Office (BIV) of the MIVD first checks whether the company meets the so-called General Security Requirements for Defense Contracts (ABDO).
Part of this is screening the staff to ensure that they do not pass on sensitive information. We look at the owner of the company and the backgrounds of the board members and whether they can be trusted. Furthermore, the buildings, computers and documents must be properly shielded from the outside world. Only if a defense company meets all ABDO requirements is it allowed to carry out the defense assignment.
But from 2013, the year of the takeover by China, no inspection by the BIV has been carried out at Visser for years, while the production of the Boxer and Bushmaster continued in those years.
Director De Jong does not see the problem: “The Chinese owners have never asked me for technical information. We only have a financial relationship with CIMC, they have no access to our intellectual property and do not have design knowledge about how products are put together. “
But should that question ever arise, it is difficult for Visser BV to refuse, as the AIVD and MIVD have already noted in the State Actors Threat Assessment. Legislation in China obliges Chinese companies abroad to transfer knowledge to the Chinese government if it requests it.
In the meantime, Visser BV has managed to secure a new large order from the Ministry of Defence. The company will convert more than 140 new Iveco trucks for transport of injured people. The company has set up a new production line in Leeuwarden for this million-dollar order.
About the period before the takeover by China, the Ministry of Defense says:
“In the period 2003-2012, Visser BV and the Industrial Security Bureau (BIV) of the MIVD had several contacts. Routine checks took place then.”
About the period after the acquisition:
“In 2013, around the acquisition of CIMC, and the years after, no risk analysis was carried out. The reason is that the company did not carry out sensitive assignments for Defense that posed a security risk.
A so-called ABDO authorization process is currently underway in connection with an assignment that the Ministry of Defense wants to place with the company. Because this investigation is still ongoing, the Ministry of Defense does not want to comment further.
Defense does not provide clarity on many other questions from RTL News.
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