General planned to turn London into arms bazaar

GENERAL PINOCHET, who was on a major arms purchasing spree when he was arrested in Britain on charges of human rights abuses, wanted to make London the base of purchasing operations because of his contacts here.

The main concern for General Pinochet when he arrived in Britain was to finalise the deal for a rocket system called Rayo, which was being developed in a joint venture between Royal Ordnance and the independent Chilean armed forces buying agency Famae. The missiles were seen as one of the main strike weapons of the Chilean defence forces and the first of a number of joint projects.

Defence industry sources in Britain and France say General Pinochet had an additional "shopping list" ranging from weaponry for the Chilean army to state-of-the-art radar systems for its navy.

It is understood that relevant sections of his "list" - running to several hundred pages - were circulated among defence contractors before his arrest on a Spanish extradition warrant last October.

The initial budget the general was handling on this trip is said to have been $130m (pounds 80m). In the long term the expenditure was expected to rise to $300m.

A British defence source who saw part of the list said: "It ran over several hundred pages and included lots of mundane stuff like parts and speciality nuts and bolts. But there were plenty of serious items as well."

Among those were:

t Radar and other sensor equipment - including hi-tech decoy systems to defend warships from attack by missiles;

t Infantry support equipment - a term usually employed to mean anti- tank weapons, grenade-launchers and portable cannons;

t Pyrotechnics - from flares and rockets to CS gas canisters and baton rounds to quell civil disorder;

t Secure communication sets and spares;

t Aircraft spares - including ejector seat activators for attack aircraft.

At the time General Pinochet was arrested, the Chilean navy was negotiating the purchase of three Royal Navy Type 22 frigates, Beaver, Boxer and London, for pounds 60m. That deal was put on hold after the General's arrest.

It is understood GEC, Hunting, and British Aerospace were among the companies whose products General Pinochet sought. It is not known whether he or his team made contact before his detention. Defence companies never release details of potential clients.