Innocent arms firm chief still imprisoned by his past

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The Independent Online


As the arms-to-Iraq saga went through its final unwinding yesterday, one man at the heart of the arms sales programme was sitting in a jail cell thousands of miles from a fevered Whitehall, writes David Hellier.

In the mid-Eighties, at the high point of his arms dealing, Paul Grecian, a former director of Ordtech, the collapsed Reading-based arms technology company, owned an estate in Scotland, called Whitehall.

By the time his appeal against charges of evading arms embargoes went to the High Court last year, he was staying in a sparse rent-free house owned by the Crown Agents in north London. Now he languishes in MobberB jail, Johannesburg, sharing a cell with Kobus, an Afrikaaner serving time for fraud, Andre, who is serving time for attempted murder and Kharid, an Asian who is facing six years in jail following a foreign exchange fraud.

Mr Grecian is facing extradition to the United States where he is wanted on charges relating to the arms deal which caused him to face criminal charges in the UK.

"It may not seem too bad to you but believe me this is not fun," Mr Grecian said in a letter to his family. "It is a constant battle every day to maintain some dignity."

How different it was just a few months ago. In October last year Paul Grecian and his co-appellants, Bryan Mason, Stuart Blackledge and Colin Phillips, sat in the High Court in London to hear Lord Justice Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, quash convictions they had incurred in a trial more than three years earlier at Reading Crown Court. Paul Grecian was the star of the show, on the front pages and on television.

After celebrating the result Mr Grecian, a 40 year-old rugby fanatic who began his business career as an advertising executive, flew to Capetown via Johannesburg.

The Johannesburg business newspaper Business Day reported last month that US prosecutors were expressing "happy surprise" that he "was careless enough to expose himself to arrest by travelling to South Africa". As far as the US prosecutors are concerned the British court's decision to quash the sentences of the four men is irrelevant. They argue that the convictions were overturned on technical, rather than substantive grounds.

Mr Grecian, Mason and Ordtec were indicted with the New Jersey firm Rexon Technologies for allegedly conspiring with the late Gerald Bull, the Canadian artillery expert, to provide Saddam Hussein with 155mm shell fuses in the late 1980s. Ordtec had turned to Rexon for the fuse components it needed for the order.

Mr Grecian's family say he was denied bail for "unproven and preposterous reasons", namely that he was a habitual fugitive of justice, that he had substantial hidden financial reserves and that the British intelligence services would smuggle him out of South Africa or provide him with a second passport.

Paul Grecian left advertising to start in the defence industry in 1980 and by 1983 had persuaded his father John to join him and head up the administration at Allivane International, a Scottish-based defence firm. Mr Grecian's view then was that the defence world offered great opportunities and was far more exciting than anything else he could think of.

Three years after Allivane, the Grecians set up Ordtech, a Reading-based company that was to specialise in selling and designing defence technology and equipment to the Third World.

They set the company up with a businessman called Max Waterman and Bryan Mason, a design engineer from the Midlands who had worked with them as an enginner at Allivane.

Of the other Ordtech appellants, Stuart Blackledge now works in the car industry, having worked at British Nuclear Fuels and North West Water as an engineer. Blackledge had been a project engineer based in Geneva and Iraq for Space Research Corporation, the Belgium-based company that created the Iraqi supergun project.

In 1988 SRC received an order from Iraq for a modified version of the M739 fuse. Mr Blackledge approached Ordtech and the Grecians to design, develop, construct an assembly line for the fuse.

His first wife died and he has married for a second time. He has two children and lives in Preston, Lancashire.

Blackledge told the Independent at the time of the appeal that there appeared to be a "lot of pressure on the prosecution to gain a conviction with the minimum of publicity" at the Reading trial.

Colin Phillips, who arranged Ordtech's shipments to Iraq via Jordan has set up his own transport company which arranges the shipment of ammunition and explosives.

Bryan Mason, Ordtech's former chief engineer who travelled frequently with Grecian to Iraq during the 1980s, has described the whole affair as a nightmare. Mr Mason, whose wife is a schoolteacher, has five children and lives in Harlow.

Now mainly unemployed, Mr Mason said during the appeal court case that he and the other appellants had always wanted to appeal against their earlier convictions but "until the Matrix Churchill trial came along we never realised we could get hold of the papers".

David Hellier