Sandline chief: We did nothing wrong

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The Independent Online
THE former Army officer at the centre of the "arms to Africa" affair yesterday said his mercenaries liaised with government officials every time they carried out an operation.

Speaking about the affair for the first time, Tim Spicer said Sandline International was "beholden" to tell the Government what it was doing.

The day after it was announced that Mr Spicer will not be prosecuted for an apparent breach of UN sanctions, he said he had clear government approval to ship arms to Sierra Leone in support of the ousted president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.

"It is really beholden on us to try and inform the relevant governments of what we have been asked to do. We would always inform those people we felt ought to be informed," he said.

His claim that officials were told every time an operation was planned will further focus attention on the inquiry that the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, has launched into possible involvement of Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials in the shipment of arms to Sierra Leone last February.

Mr Spicer said: "My major irritation is that I have spent a great deal of my time working for the Government, in different political persuasions. What we did in Sierra Leone was designed for the good rather than the bad of the country. If one believes you acted with the approval of the Government, as represented by officials or whoever, it's pretty galling to be involved as part of a criminal investigation.

"That being said, I am delighted that there are going to be no criminal charges."

Customs and Excise, which conducted a six-week investigation into whether Sandline and others had broken the embargo banning arms sales to Sierra Leone, said on Monday that there would be no prosecution, because "circumstances leading up to the supply" of arms had made such a charge unfair. There were also claims that comments made by Tony Blair about the entire affair being a "hoo-ha" had made a prosecution impossible.

Mr Spicer would like to contribute to an independent inquiry, headed by Sir Thomas Legg, a former permanent secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department.

Should he be asked, he will rebut Mr Cook's claim, on Monday, that there had only been one meeting between Foreign Office officials and Sandline and that the arms shipment was never mentioned. Sandline has always insisted that there were at least three official meetings in Britain, with more meetings with officials in West Africa.

He admitted that, while he believed he had clear approval, he had nothing in writing. He never met a minister but refused to say whether he had been told by officials that ministers had been told.

Mr Spicer also refused to give specific details of dates of meetings with officials, or the High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold. Sandline also provided helicopters and pilots to Nigerian-led forces that liberated Freetown last February. "We flew ... day and night to help move troops and evacuate their casualties. Surely it must be right to help someone that is elected back to power, particularly in face of the savage, ruthless regime that ousted him," he said.