'It is apparent Sandline involvement had approval'

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The Independent Online
Extracts from a letter, dated 24 April, from Richard Slowe of SJ Berwin & Co, acting for Sandline, to the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook.

Dear Foreign Secretary,

We have been consulted by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer and Mr Michael Grunberg in relation to ... their involvement with affairs in Sierra Leone. ... Some disturbing developments in recent weeks involving the activities of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise appear to have occurred without the knowledge of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department of Trade and Industry or the Ministry of Defence.

As you will be aware, the coup in Sierra Leone last year which removed President Kabbah was roundly condemned ... and you, Sir, were widely reported as offering President Kabbah the full support of Her Majesty's Government in restoring the lawful government to power in Sierra Leone ...

Mr Spicer is an executive of a company called Sandline International, which is in the business of providing military assistance to lawful governments, and Mr Grunberg is a consultant to that company.

At the suggestion of your High Commissioner in Freetown, Mr Peter Penfold, President Kabbah asked our clients to provide such assistance.Thereafter negotiations proceeded with President Kabbah and ... full briefings were given both personally and by telephone to representatives of Her Majesty's Government.

At the Foreign and Commonwealth Office those briefed include John Everard, Craig Murray, Linda St Cook and Tim Andrews and our clients were led to believe that clearance was given at Head of Department level. The Ministry of Defence personnel who were briefed included Lieutenant Colonel Peter Hicks in Conakry and Colonel Andrew Gale, the British Army military adviser to the UN Special Envoy to Sierra Leone.

Further, Mr Penfold himself called at our clients' office premises on 28 January 1998, just three weeks before the equipment now in issue was delivered, and was given full details of the arrangements ...

Our clients were assured ... that the operation had the full support of Her Majesty's Government.

At the same time, our clients kept informed the US State Department at the highest level, including John Hirsch, the US Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Charles Snyder, Director, Office of Regional Affairs and Dennis Linskey, Chief, West and Southern Africa Division.

Furthermore, following support having been given for the proposed operation by both the US Department of State and the US Department of Defence ... we understand that Michael Thomas, the Country Desk Officer for Sierra Leone at the US Department of State met with Philip Parham, the Africa Watcher at the British Embassy in Washington indicating the US Government's full support for Sandline International's involvement ...

Accordingly, it is quite apparent that the involvement of Sandline International ... had ... the approval of Her Majesty's Government and, should it become necessary, we would contend that a licence had been given within the meaning of the Sierra Leone (United Nations Sanctions) Order 1997 ...

Sandline International's involvement was quite open and indeed their personnel were invited aboard HMS Cornwall where they provided tactical and operational advice.

Further, engineers from HMS Cornwall assisted in the repair of a helicopter which Sandline International was operating in support of President Kabbah ...

Needless to say, our clients find the actions of the Customs Officers [who are carrying out an inquiry] to be at complete variance with the policy of Her Majesty's Government ...

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