Atlas Maschinen GmbH is a German crane manufacturer. (Atlas Website)
Hydro Atlas is an Iranian construction equipment company created in participation with Atlas of Germany. The comany manufactures lifting equipment and cranes in Iran. They state they are the first crane producer in the Middle East. (Hydro Atlas Website, "About Us")
“Not long ago, we received a press release that caught our eye — this is not a common occurrence — and was distributed by an NGO called United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). Based in New York and headed by former US Ambassador to the United Nations Mark D. Wallace, UANI had photos of alleged criminals being hanged in front of spectators in the Iranian cities of Qaem Shahr and Babol. However, the condemned weren't hanging from traditional gallows. They were hanging from construction cranes that had one word painted on them: Atlas. As in, German heavy-equipment manufacturer Atlas Maschinen GmbH, with whom UANI was clearly upset. Wallace had written a 2011 Los Angeles Times op-ed in which he described his organization's goal of persuading crane manufacturers to stop doing business in Iran as long as the regime expressed such fondness for hanging people from those cranes. Argue all you want about whether or not that's an effective strategy — there are, after all, many other tall things in Iran from which to hang people — but we were curious what it's like to manufacture cranes and then find out from a pissed-off NGO that they're being used for executions.
So we called Fil Filipov, the chairman of Atlas. He was born in Communist Bulgaria in 1946, fled to the US when he was 17, and proceeded to have an extremely successful career in the construction equipment manufacturing industry — you can learn more about Filipov at his website, Filosophies.com. He told us he was unaware of UANI's claims. ‘I have no idea if what they say is right or wrong, and I have no plans to respond,’ Filipov told VICE News. ‘I don't give a damn what they write.’ During the course of our conversation, Filipov said Atlas does business in 58 countries, but he denied doing business in Iran. He insisted multiple times, ‘I don’t sell to that country.’ But that didn't explain Hydro-Atlas, the company in Tehran that describes itself as the ‘official representative of Atlas GmbH in Iran … initiated in 1976 with the participation and partnership of the German company Atlas.’ We asked Filipov about that. ‘I cannot stop anybody from using the Atlas name — you can use it yourself if you want,’ he said. ‘In Western Europe, there are probably 30 dealers called Atlas: Atlas Hanover, Atlas Stuttgart, all unrelated to the real Atlas.’ Filipov maintains his company is ‘fully in compliance with all regulations and trade agreements,’ which as far as we can tell, it is. Atlas is a German company, and selling cranes in Iran is not prohibited under any existing UN or EU sanctions. In fact, more than 100 German companies are currently doing business in Iran, and the rest of Europe is equally well-represented…
According to UANI, its campaign has persuaded five large crane manufacturers to pull out of the Iranian market: Konecranes of Finland, UNIC and Tadano of Japan, Germany’s Liebherr, and most notably Connecticut’s Terex. Notable because the company's presidents have included both Filipov and his son Steve, and because the company claimed in 2011 that UANI didn't persuade them to stop doing business in Iran because they'd already stopped doing business in Iran. We asked UANI spokesman Nathan Carleton what he expects from Atlas. ‘Look, we’re not saying that Fil Filipov is personally hanging people from cranes or that he condones the regime’s actions,’ Carleton said. ‘All we know is that people are being hung from Atlas cranes, and there are dealerships in Iran calling themselves Atlas crane.’ Carleton argued that the photos of the executions that UANI spotted 'are the smoking gun' that should persuade Atlas to act. Not surprisingly, Filipov disagreed. ‘With the Internet and the way we’re living today, people are free to put my picture next to somebody and say anything,’ he said. ‘It could be a Photoshop thing.’ This was getting us nowhere. So we decided to call Hydro-Atlas in Tehran. ‘We import parts from Germany under license from Atlas,’ a sales rep told us in Farsi, ‘and we assemble them in our factory in Iran’…Despite what Filipov said, Atlas clearly has an arrangement with a dealer in Iran — but that's not illegal. And while Filipov was kind enough to offer us the use of the Atlas name, we're sure he wouldn't allow a company to call itself Atlas without actually selling Atlas cranes. So while he was somewhat less than straightforward about Atlas's dealings in Iran, that doesn't mean Atlas has any obligation to act…We asked Filipov. ‘What can one do?’ he said. ‘The world is full of assholes.’” (Vice, “What Happens When Iran Uses Construction Equipment to Kill People,” 3/16/14)
“A German crane manufacturer has denied selling its wares to Iran, which were subsequently used in public hangings. Human rights groups have lambasted construction company Atlas in recent weeks after pictures appeared on the Internet purportedly showing executions using the company’s products. Advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) called on chairman Fil Filipov to end the supply of cranes to the Middle Eastern state, however Filipov told the Washington Beacon on Thursday, ‘We do not ship any cranes to this country,’ adding that he had ‘no idea’ how the products ended up in Tehran. Filipov said via email: ‘We are not the police … we make over 2,000 cranes per year and do not know who imports cranes where … Atlas does not sell cranes to this country! Sure we have an issue,’ he added, ‘cranes are made to be used in construction … what do you suggest Atlas can do? No one has given out any serial numbers so we can check where was the crane sold to?’ In 2013, the Iranian state killed 529 people with the rate continuing under President Hassan Rouhani at around two every day.” (The Huffington Post, “German Manufacturer Atlas Denies Selling Cranes To Iran, Which Have Been Used For Public Hangings,” 2/20/14)
"The chairman of a German company whose cranes are reportedly being used for public hangings in Iran lashed out at critics and dismissed calls for his company to end its relationship with Tehran on humanitarian grounds. German construction company Atlas has come under fire from advocacy groups for purportedly supplying cranes to Iran, which then uses them to publicly hang opposition leaders and others. Iran is a world leader in executions, killing 529 citizens last year mostly by hanging. Another 40 people were hanged over two weeks in January, and about two Iranians are being executed a day under President Hassan Rouhani. The name Atlas can be seen on the cranes in several photographs of Iran’s public hanging ceremonies, in which a masked executioner strings up a man as locals gather to watch, often with their children.
The photographs prompted the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) to write Atlas Chairman Fil Filipov to demand that his company ‘immediately terminate all business activities in Iran.’ Atlas, which appears to be represented in Iran by an affiliate named Hydro Atlas, says it is not doing business with Iran and does not know how its equipment made its way to the country. ‘We do not ship any cranes to this country!’ Filipov told the Washington Free Beacon via email when asked about the pictures showing its cranes being used in hangings. Filipov dismissed humanitarian concerns in a series of emails to the Free Beacon and said he has “no idea” how his company’s equipment ended up in Iran. Asked if he was concerned that Atlas cranes were being used in executions, Filipov responded, ‘We are not the police … we make over 2,000 cranes per year and do not know who imports cranes where … Atlas does not sell cranes to this country! Sure we have an issue’ with the equipment being used to kill people, because ‘cranes are made to be used in construction … what do you suggest Atlas can do?’ wrote Filipov, the author of Filosophies: A Bulgarian Refugee’s Autobiography and Provocative Approach to Business Success. When pressed further on the issue, Filipov said he has ‘no idea’ if Atlas cranes have been used to hang Iranians. ‘I have no idea—have NEVER been to that country and do not know it,” he wrote, adding he does “not understand” what exactly is taking place. ‘I have no idea,’ he wrote when asked how the cranes may have made it to Iran. ‘No one has given out any serial numbers so we can check where was the crane sold to???’ Asked if it was false for UANI to claim that Atlas cranes are being utilized in executions, Filipov again responded, ‘I have no idea.’ When presented with UANI’s letter and photographic evidence purporting to show people hanging from Atlas cranes, Filipov dismissed the group as ‘crazy people…I have no time to deal with crazy people writing whatever without any substantiations … already work 20 hrs per day to keep the businesses afloat and!! [sic]’ he wrote.
UANI spokesman Nathan Carleton said Filipov should to be more accountable given Iran’s record of human rights abuses. ‘It is regrettable that Mr. Filipov is not more concerned with this situation—it is a very serious matter,’ Carleton told the Free Beacon. ‘Instead of making such flippant responses, Mr. Filipov should explain how his cranes got to Iran and why there is an Iranian firm calling itself his business partner and using his logo.’ UANI CEO Mark Wallace earlier this month called on Atlas to “leave Iran…Lest there be any doubt about the risks for all responsible companies of doing business in Iran, each and every business worldwide that is considering entering the Iran market should look at the morbid pictures of dead Iranians hanging by their necks from Atlas cranes. Iran is not open for business,’ Wallace said in a statement issued at the time. Filipov did not publicly respond to Wallace’s letter, which was sent as part of UANI’s Cranes Campaign aimed at stopping companies from dealing with Tehran." (Washington Free Beacon, “German Company Denies Selling Death Cranes to Iran,” 2/19/14)
On October 5th, 2013, two prisoners were hanged to death publicly on an Atlas crane for allegedly "murdering four members of a family in Babol." In a statement condemning the hangings, Iran Human Rights IIHR) said, "This is nothing else than promoting a culture of murder and brutality in the society." (Iran Human Rights, "Two Prisoners Executed Publicly in Northern Iran," 10/5/13)
On September 14, 2013, an 18 year-old Iranian was hanged to death publicly on an Atlas crane by regime authorities. The regime regularly performs executions by publicly hanging the condemned from a construction crane. (Iran Human Rights, "An 18 Year Old Boy Hanged Publicly in Northern Iran Today," 9/14/13)