Vec­tor co-in­vests with weapons maker

The Southland Times - - Business - Tom Pullar-Strecker tom.pullar-strecker@stuff.co.nz

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

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