Israel’s Defense Ministry on Sunday suspended the export licenses of three senior officials from an aircraft manufacturer suspected of testing one of its “suicide drones” against the Armenian military in 2017 at the behest of its client Azerbaijan in violation of Israeli law, the Times of Israel reports.
The publicly traded company, Aeronautics Ltd., informed the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange of the development on Sunday.
Many details of the case remain under a court-issued gag order.
The Defense Ministry later confirmed that it was blocking the export licenses of three senior officials in the company — CEO Amos Matan, deputy CEO Meir Rizmovitch and a third, unnamed, employee — pending a formal hearing.
“They will not be able to work in marketing or defense exports with outside officials,” the company said.
This suspension will remain in effect until a verdict is rendered in the case against them.
The announcement came two weeks after the Rafael defense contractor agreed to purchase Aeronautics for NIS 850 million ($231.7 million).
In August 2018, the State’s Attorney’s Office announced that it intended to indict Matan, Rizmovitch and other senior officials in the company in connection with the alleged illegal live-fire test of its Orbiter 1K model unmanned aerial vehicle.
A statement announcing the plans to summon the company members said they were suspected of fraud as well as other violations of the Defense Export Control Law, which protects against unauthorized exports of defense intelligence and equipment.
In a statement responding to the hearing summonses, Aeronautics said: “We are convinced that after we first present our position at the hearing, the State Prosecutor’s Office will reach an informed decision that there is no reason to put the company or any of its officers in court and will order the case closed.”
In August 2017, the reports emerged that the company was suspected of using the Orbiter 1K kamikaze drone to attack Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh during a demonstration for Azeri officials.
The Israel Police’s Unit of International Crime Investigations, the Defense Ministry’s investigation unit and the State Attorney’s Office launched an investigation into Aeronautics’s conduct, but a gag order has been placed over many of its details.
With the launch of the probe, the company said it had been barred from selling the Orbiter 1K model to its “central client ‘A'” — not identifying the country by its name, per the gag order.
Aeronautics is accused of sending a team to the Azerbaijan capital Baku to demonstrate the Orbiter 1K unmanned aerial vehicle, which can be outfitted with a small explosive payload of 2.2 to 4.4 pounds (one to two kilograms) and flown into an enemy target on a “suicide” mission.
According to the complaint against the company, while demonstrating the kamikaze drone to the Azerbaijani military in July 2017, the company was asked to carry out a live-fire test of the system against an Armenian military position.