Vector co-invests with weapons maker
Vector has invested alongside an Israeli defence company that has supplied remote-controlled machinegun turrets being used in pillboxes along the Gaza border.
The Auckland lines company spent $14 million in October on an 8 per cent stake in software firm mPrest, which Reuters reported at the time was half-owned by Israeli state-owned defence contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
Rafael supplies remote-controlled Sentry Tech heavy-calibre machinegun pods that are designed to create what has been described as a 1500-metre-deep ‘‘automated kill zone’’ along the Gaza border.
The turrets have reportedly killed dozens of Palestinian ‘‘alleged terrorists’’.
Rafael has also made cluster bombs that are outlawed by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which New Zealand, but not Israel, has signed.
The company promotes a video of a non-lethal version of its ‘‘Samson’’ automated weapons systems on its website that it sells for riot control, but has avoided imagery of the more controversial systems installed on the Gaza-Israeli strip.
MPrest, which was founded by former Israeli navy colonel Natan Barak, has itself directly contributed to some less controversial defence systems, including Israel’s ‘‘Iron Dome’’ air defence system.
Vector spokeswoman Elissa Downey denied Rafael now had a controlling 50 per cent stake in mPrest but declined to say what its stake was, saying it was ‘‘confidential’’. ‘‘While the first successful application of mPrest technology was in military defence, it has universal applications for modern network systems,’’ she said.
‘‘Vector’s investment . . . is to support the expansion of the mPrest platform into the energy and utilities sectors. Vector believes that mPrest’s technology will have a real and positive benefit to our community in Auckland and will help democratise energy.’’
Downey denied that by investing alongside Rafael in mPrest, Vector had an association or relationship with Rafael, and indicated it had no knowledge of the weapons systems Rafael was supplying for use on the Gaza border.
The Green Party’s defence and human rights spokeswoman, Golriz Ghahraman, said it was deeply concerned. ‘‘New Zealanders would be horrified to know that Vector is making a financial contribution to a company implicated in such terror.’’
She urged Vector to pull out of any investment with the company.
‘‘We don’t think New Zealanders would find it acceptable to be investing in companies implicated in international conflict,’’ she said.
Vector said it had expanded its partnership with mPrest in October.
The statement did not make it explicit that it had directly invested in the business, though that information was contained in its annual report, and it did not refer to the company’s military associations.
Vector said mPrest’s machinelearning and artificial intelligence technology could be used to better manage its electricity network, though an industry insider said it was not clear whether any of it was operational.
William Cairns, chairman of Vector’s majority owner, Entrust, distanced the community trust from Vector’s investment in mPrest, saying ‘‘these decisions are a matter for the Vector board’’.
‘‘Though Entrust is the majority shareholder of Vector, we do not approve investment decisions of this size,’’ he said.
Cairns declined to say whether the trust was aware of the full extent of mPrest’s defence ties and would not discuss the community trust’s views on the ethics of remotecontrolled weapons systems.
Valerie Morse, of Auckland Peace Action, said she did not believe that response was adequate.
‘‘If you look at KiwiSaver, people have responded very aggressively to reports of investments in weapons firms.’’
‘‘Vector believes that mPrest’s technology will have a real and positive benefit to our community . . . and will help democratise energy.’’ Vector spokeswoman Elissa Downey