It concerns the company Visser BV from Leeuwarden. Although the traditional Dutch name suggests otherwise, in 2013 the company was taken over by CIMC, a Chinese state-owned company. A Chinese director is at the helm of Visser BV, research by RTL Nieuws in collaboration with Follow the Money shows.
The fact that the risk of the Chinese takeover of this company by the Ministry of Defense has not been recognized causes great concern for former army chief Mart de Kruif. “There should have been a security check first.” Security expert Danny Pronk calls it ‘bad’ that a risk assessment was not carried out after the takeover to see if the information held by the company is still secure.
China aims to become the greatest military power in the world. The communist superpower is increasingly coming into conflict with the West, our intelligence services write in their annual reports. Last November, the services warned the defense industry against ‘sabotage and espionage’ by China in a threat assessment.
Outwit the opponent
China now knows what our armored vehicles look like inside and how the equipment works. “This makes your potential adversary smarter,” says security expert Danny Pronk. “They can then take countermeasures. I actually think it’s naive. It’s like there’s been a blind spot to the espionage risk.”
“If you can see the drawings of the Bushmaster or a Boxer, you have access to the information that comes with it. You shouldn’t have that. Someone should have woken up,” says Mart de Kruif.
The Frisian company is the market leader in the Netherlands in the construction of ambulances. But the company has been designing and building the interiors of armored vehicles for defense since 2003. To do this work, the Ministry of Defense shares a lot of information with Visser. The company gets access to construction drawings of the vehicles, information about the equipment to be installed and the location of the machine guns on the car.
Driving conning tower
Initially, it was about designing and equipping armored vehicles for the transport of the wounded. Later, other types were added, such as the Boxer Command Post.
That vehicle acts as a mobile turret 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 battle is shared,” says Mart de Kruif. “The last thing you want is for other people to see it.”
‘Bush Master 2.0’
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 from attacks by drones or remotely detonated explosives. The equipment interferes with the signal used to remotely control the drones or explosive devices.
The Bushmaster can intercept or jam enemy radio traffic. The first ‘Bushmaster 2.0’ was handed over to the Armed Forces in 2020. The Dutch army has around 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. It is a huge Chinese company, in which the Chinese state owns 54 percent of the shares. Thanks to the takeover, the Chinese now have all the technical knowledge about the Boxer and the Bushmaster that Visser has at one go.
Notification or not?
Not a single alarm bell rings at the Armed Forces in our country. Nor has a risk analysis been carried out for the new owner, because it was not seen as necessary, says the Ministry of Defense to RTL Nyheder. Director of Visser BV, Taeke de Jong, says that the takeover was reported to the Norwegian Armed Forces at the time. “But the Ministry of Defense has not responded or taken any action,” says De Jong. The 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 the Armed Forces this year with cuts to the Armed Forces. “The armed forces are rattling in the 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 the Norwegian Armed Forces join forces with a company, the Industrial Security Office (BIV) in MIVD first checks whether the company meets the so-called General Security Requirements for Defense Contracts (ABDO).
Part of this is screening staff to ensure they are not disclosing sensitive information. We look at the background of the owner of the company and the board members and whether they can be trusted. Furthermore, buildings, computers and documents must be properly shielded from the outside world. Only if a defense company meets all ABDO requirements is it permitted to carry out the defense task.
However, as of 2013, the year of China’s takeover, no BIV inspection has been carried out on Visser for years, while Boxer and Bushmaster production 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 no design knowledge of 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. The law in China obliges Chinese companies abroad to transfer knowledge to the Chinese government if it requests it.
In the meantime, Visser BV has succeeded in securing a new major order from the Ministry of Defence. The company will convert more than 140 new Iveco trucks for the transport of casualties. The company has established a new production line in Leeuwarden for this million order.
About the period before China’s takeover, the Ministry of Defense says:
“In the period 2003-2012, Visser BV and the Industrial Security Bureau (BIV) in the MIVD had several contacts. Routine checks took place then.”
About the period after the purchase:
“In 2013, around the purchase of CIMC, and the following years, no risk analysis was carried out. The reason is that the company has not carried out sensitive tasks for the Armed Forces that posed a security risk.
A so-called ABDO approval process is currently underway in connection with a task that the Ministry of Defense wants to place with the company. As this investigation is still ongoing, the Ministry of Defense does not wish to comment further.
The defense does not provide clarity on many other questions from RTL News.
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