January 18, 2011

Galileo SatNav Exec Fired Over Leaked Cable

The head of a German space technology company has been ousted from his position after leaked diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks showed that he criticized the development of the Galileo satellite navigation system--a project his firm was a part of.

Berry Smutny had been serving as CEO of OHB Technology, which was one of the companies awarded a $742 million contract to develop 14 satellites for the proposed French counterpart to the American Global Positioning System, or GPS.

According to an October 2009 cable, leaked by the controversial website and re-printed by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, Smutny called the project "a stupid idea that primarily serves French interests" and "a waste of EU (European Union) taxpayers' money."

Furthermore, according to AFP reports over the weekend, the cable said that Smutny "claimed the EU desire to develop a redundant but alternative to GPS was spearheaded by the French after an incident during the Kosovo conflict when the US military 'manipulated' GPS to support military operations."

"Since this time, he said France has aggressively corralled EU support to invest in Galileo development -- something Smutny said France wants to ensure their missile guidance systems are free of any GPS reliance. Smutny added, the irony for German investment in Galileo is that some of France's nuclear missiles are aimed at Berlin," it said.

When asked about the matter by Aftenposten, Smutny acknowledged having an "informal dinner" with US diplomats, but denied making the comments attributed to him in the leaked cable.

In a statement posted to the company's official website, OHB Systems said that Smutny had been "suspended with immediate effect" and that a board of supervisors had "passed a unanimous resolution to revoke Mr. Smutny's appointment to the position of CEO of the company."

The company statement confirmed that the action was in response to the Aftenposten report.

"The Supervisory Board disapproves these conversations and the quotes attributed to Mr. Smutny," they said. "The General Assembly and the Supervisory Board saw no alternative to this decision in order to effectively avert any further damage to the company on the part of customers, political representatives and the public at large."

Marco R. Fuchs, the CEO of the OHB System's parent company, OHB Technology AG, would be taking over Smutny's position "until further notice" and would "share the duties of Mr. Smutny with the Members of the Management Board, Dr. Fritz Merkle and Frank Negretti."

According to AFP, the Galileo project has been "plagued by delays and cost over-runs," and while the satellite navigation system currently carries an official price tag of around $4.5 billion, the French news agency notes that the actual costs could top $26 billion by the time it is expected to become operational, sometime in 2014.


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