Diplomats face Iraq arms charge

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Westminster Correspondent

Two British diplomats may face criminal prosecution for perverting the course of justice in the case of the arms dealer Reginald Dunk, who was wrongfully convicted of exporting machine-guns to Iraq.

And for the first time in the arms-to-Iraq saga, the Home Office has agreed to pay compensation in what amounts to tacit admission that Mr Dunk was denied a fair trial.

The diplomats - Zambia High Commissioner Patrick Nixon and the Ethiopia number two Carsten Pigott - have been named in the Scotland Yard report into Mr Dunk's successful appeal in 1994 against his conviction nine years earlier. The findings have been sent to the Crown Prosecution service. Both diplomats were named and criticised in the Scott Report for pressing possible defence witnesses not to testify in the businessman's trial.

Documents submitted to the Scott inquiry revealed officials had "friendly words" with ambassadors from Iraq and Jordan, telling them to claim diplomatic immunity for their staff and asking them not to help Mr Dunk. Mr Nixon and Mr Pigott, then desk officers in London, oversaw the operation. Sir Richard Scott said the two men could not have "supposed otherwise" that their behaviour amounted to impeding the course of justice.

The decision by Michael Howard, Home Secretary, to accept a claim by Mr Dunk's solicitor for compensation for his wrongful prosecution is an indication of how seriously the Government views the case. It is also a possible attempt to avoid his going to court and causing more embarrassment.

Mr Dunk's solicitor, Lawrence Kormonick, said: "The Home Secretary has decided to make a payment to Mr Dunk from public funds as compensation in respect of his conviction on 4 November 1985 which was subsequently reversed by the Court of Appeal." Mr Kormonick is now preparing a schedule of loss for his client which is likely to total more than pounds 500,000. Overnight, following his conviction, business dried up and clients stayed away. He had to cut jobs and dip into his life savings to keep the company afloat.

In 1985, Mr Dunk, now 76, who ran Atlantic Commercial, a private arms- dealing firm, was fined pounds 20,000 and ordered to pay pounds 7,500 costs, after pleading guilty to attempting to smuggle 200 Sterling sub-machine guns to Iraq via Jordan. Alexander Schlesinger, a consultant to Atlantic, was also fined. A third defendant James Edmiston, was acquitted.

At the trial Mr Dunk changed his plea from not guilty to guilty after Jordanian and Iraqi diplomats in London refused to appear in his defence.

Mr Pigott told the Scott inquiry he and Mr Nixon had acted in good faith and pointed out they were acting at the request of Customs, the prosecuting authority, which they assumed had " cleared their lines from the legal standpoint".

Fight for compensation, page 5