The inquiry, ordered by Michael Heseltine, the new Deputy Prime Minister, follows revelations about the illegal sale of naval guns to Iran via Singapore by BMARC, the arms manufacturer where Jonathan Aitken was once a director.
Officials have been told to re-examine all weapons sales to Singapore. The inquiry is wider than announced three weeks ago by Mr Heseltine, when he gave the impression it was looking solely at BMARC. Already, the Government has had to correct a parliamentary answer given by Mr Aitken when he was Minister for Defence Procurement.
It has been common knowledge among arms dealers that Singapore was a conduit for embargo-busting deals with Iran and Iraq in the 1980s.
In a Commons written answer, Roger Freeman, until Wednesday the defence procurement minister, told Dale Campbell-Savours, Labour MP for Workington: "Following the statement by [Mr Heseltine] on BMARC, departments have, as a prudent measure, started to research some associated areas of defence exports to Singapore."
Mr Freeman continued: "It is too early to draw even tentative conclusions. Any evidence of illegal activity will of course be brought immediately to the attention of the Customs & Excise, the independent prosecuting authority, for its consideration."
In another answer, to Llew Smith, Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, Mr Freeman said records had emerged revealing two companies, Royal Ordnance and Allivane International, were exporters to Singapore.
In January 1994, Mr Aitken told Mr Smith, in a written answer, that the MoD held no information about the sale of artillery shells by Royal Ordnance and Allivane to Chartered Chemical Industries of Singapore. Relating specifically to that answer, Mr Freeman has now admitted to Mr Smith: "In the course of recent researches it has come to light that Singapore Technologies [the parent company of Chartered Chemical Industries] was, on occasion, a consignee of exports from Royal Ordnance."
The minister also volunteered to Mr Smith: "In the course of recent researches, it has come to light that Chartered Industries of Singapore [which belongs to the same group as Chartered Chemical Industries] was, on occasion, a consignee of exports from Allivane." Chartered Industries was the company that ostensibly purchased 140 naval guns from BMARC. The guns were subsequently sent to Iran.
Mr Smith last night described Mr Freeman's answer as "astonishing - it demonstrates a British government-owned company supplied exports to Iran."
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