Despite publicly claiming it had strongly advised the men's employers not to send staff to Chechnya, correspondence obtained by The Independent shows officials were keen to use the company to supply information on investment opportunities and politics. In a Commons statement last December, Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd said the advice to the employers, Granger Telecom and British Telecom, had been "unambiguous and clear".
However, in a letter written to Granger two months earlier, a Foreign Office official wrote: "As one of the very small number of British companies involved in Chechnya and having first-hand knowledge of Grozny [the capital] we would welcome your views on the potential for investment in Chechnya." It also requested information on contacts and Chechens they considered influential. They also "finally" sought information on Jon James and Camilla Carr, two British kidnapped charity workers, eventually released in September after being held hostage for 14 months.
The Foreign Office last night defended its actions and said it had only been trying to secure the release of the two charity workers. It refused to comment on whether any information obtained by the Foreign Office would be passed to the intelligence services. The four engineers, three Britons, Rudolf Petschi, Darren Hickey and Peter Kennedy, and a New Zealander, Stanley Shaw, were kidnapped in Grozny in October last year. The men were killed in December, apparently afterbeing forced to confess to spying. Their captors decapitated them and left their heads on a roadside 40 miles outside of Grozny.
Last night a political row was brewing as opposition MPs demanded a full explanation. Tory foreign affairs spokeswoman Cheryl Gillan said: "Tony Lloyd spoke about the advice to the company being unambiguous. It is clear that it was not unambiguous. The use of the words `formal advice' implies the FO was saying `don't go, but since you are there tell us what you can'."
A Granger spokesman insisted that while it passed on "background" information to aid efforts to secure the release of Mr James and Ms Carr, the men had not been acting as spies. A spokesman for Mr Hickey's family declined to comment last night .
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