'Supergun' directors face disqualification

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SIX FORMER directors of Astra, the controversial defence company that became embroiled in the Iraqi 'supergun' affair, face proceedings for disqualification by the Department of Trade and Industry following a lengthy inquiry into the company's activities.

However, another director, Stephan Kock, who has been been linked to both MI6 and the Pergau dam affair, will not face the same proceedings because the DTI says there is insufficient evidence.

All the directors, including Mr Kock, were criticised in a 550-page DTI report, published last summer, for their involvement in the company's pounds 22m acquisition of a Belgian defence company, PRB.

Astra became involved in the 'supergun' affair when it discovered after acquiring PRB that the Belgian company had a major contract to supply propellant to the 'gun'. Its senior executives then informed the security services.

Later it emerged during a parliamentary inquiry that the late Nicholas Ridley may have misinformed Parliament when he stated that the Government had learnt about the existence of the 'gun' only days before Customs seized giant steel tubes in April 1990. That was months after the Astra tip-off.

The Astra directors, however, were criticised by the DTI for continuing with the PRB acquisition in spite of warnings from some of its advisers that they should not go ahead because PRB was in a crippled financial condition. They were also criticised for misleading shareholders about the state of Astra's own financial situation when it went to them for new funds.

The orders being sought by the DTI under the Company Directors' Disqualification Act (1986) can last up to 15 years.

The six are the former chairman, Gerald James; the former chief executive, Christopher Gumbley; and former directors John Anderson, Martin Guest, James Miller and a lawyer and former non-executive director, Laurence Antony Kingswood.

The decision not to proceed against Mr Kock comes despite criticism by DTI inspectors that he failed to insist on key information being given to him by Astra's accountants.

Mr Kock came to public notice in 1990, when he was fined pounds 650 after firing a pistol in the air at two men on a quiet road in Scotland. He was a consultant at Midland Bank's secretive defence sales department during the 1980s.

The DTI said it had taken more than a year since the publication of its report to obtain counsel's opinion and get the affidavits for its current action into a presentable form; the delay was 'regrettable' and was also due to discussions over the matter with DTI ministers.