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President quits after boast over arms deals

The president of the Royal British Legion has become the first high-profile casualty of allegations about former commanders offering to lobby for lucrative defence contracts on behalf of arms companies.

Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely resigned yesterday ahead of the Legion setting up an inquiry into his conduct. The distinguished and decorated 64-year-old Falklands veteran, pictured, acknowledged that he had made "exaggerated and foolish claims" about his access to people in power and this made it "inappropriate" for him to remain at his post. He continued to insist, however, that he had not broken Whitehall rules on the issue.

Serving chiefs of staff in the military are furious at the adverse publicity generated by the newspaper "sting" in which some of the most senior former officers in the country were secretly filmed boasting about how much influence they can wield in securing commercial contracts.

"It is appalling and sends exactly the wrong message at a time when there are cutbacks and redundancies across the services" said a senior officer. "The irony is that it isn't at all easy for outsiders to influence defence contracts under the rules which have been brought in. There was a lot of bluster involved in this, but what has happened is pretty damaging. We will wait and see what the terms of this (MoD) inquiry are before considering taking any further steps."

As well as General Kiszely, who is also a former head of the Defence Academy, the undercover reporting by the Sunday Times focused on General Lord Dannatt, a former head of the Army; Admiral Sir Trevor Soar, the former second in command of the Royal Navy and Lieutenant-General Richard Applegate, the Army's former chief of procurement. All these men have denied any wrongdoing.

Admiral Soar was filmed saying he was prepared to "ignore" a stipulation that personnel should not take part in lobbying for two years after leaving the service. But the three-month newspaper investigation appears to have failed to unearth any overt breaking of the rules.

Chris Simpkins, director general of the Legion, praised Gen Kiszely's "commitment and dedication" but said: "The Legion's work, including Remembrance events, must be kept free of any suggestion that it can be used for commercial or political gain."