Tories in new 'arms to Iraq' woe

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The Independent Online
A COURT CASE which is in many ways a carbon copy of the Matrix- Churchill arms-to-Iraq trial opens tomorrow with, potentially, similar explosive consequences for the Government.

Four businessmen from Ordtec, a Reading company, are appealing against their 1992 convictions for smuggling defence equipment to Saddam Hussein's regime in defiance of the Government's arms embargo. They claim - as did the Matrix-Churchill defendants - that the Government knew what they were doing. Whether they win or lose, the hearing will give fresh momentum to the long, painful unravelling of government duplicity over the secret arms trade.

The three businessmen from Matrix-Churchill were acquitted after the Government was forced to disclose documents which showed that it did indeed know they were doing business with the Iraqis, and it was this which prompted the formation of the Scott inquiry into arms for Iraq.

There are extraordinary parallels between the two prosecutions and Sir Richard Scott has been examining the circumstances of the Ordtec case since the start of his own investigation.

The four Ordtec appellants - Paul Grecian, Bryan Mason, Stuart Blackledge and Colin Phillips - all argue that their convictions should be overturned because the Government knew all along of their trade with Saddam Hussein. During their original trial at Reading Crown Court in February 1992, Judge Stanley Spence denied them access to documents which, they argued, would illustrate the extent of official connivance. Judge Spence was prompted to caution by the threat that public interest immunity certificates would be imposed on certain documents to inhibit their disclosure.

Three of the men, who worked directly for Ordtec, were given suspended prison sentences ranging from six months to a year. The fourth, Colin Phillips, who worked for a transport company, was fined.

Judge Spence's summing up was unusual. He appeared to confirm that one of the defendants, Paul Grecian, had worked with the security services. In late 1992, the Independent on Sunday revealed that Mr Grecian had been regularly reporting to Special Branch, MI5 and MI6 on the Iraqi arms industry and on his own part in it. Ordtec had been sub-contracted by a Brussels-based company, the Space Research Corporation, to supply artillery fuse components. SRC was the creation of Dr Gerald Bull, the Canadian ballistics scientist who designed the Iraqi supergun. The documents said the equipment was going to Jordan - a well known conduit for illegal supply to Iraq.

Mr Grecian made several trips to Baghdad and told his secret service contacts in London of Dr Bull's supergun, and of other secret Iraqi projects. His handlers led him to understand that Douglas Hurd, then Foreign Secretary, had raised the Ordtec matter with King Hussain of Jordan - suggesting that the information he was supplying was reaching ministerial ears.

In October 1990, as British forces arrived in Saudi Arabia, to prepare to recover Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, Mr Grecian and his colleagues were charged with illegal selling the fuse equipment. His security contacts said they could do nothing to help him. When Judge Spence declined to let him have papers which he claimed would have proved the nature of their complicity, he was forced to plead guilty.

It has since transpired that relevant documents do indeed exist despite the trial Judge's ruling that they did not.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor has spent months arbitrating in a dispute over their disclosure. Michael Howard, Douglas Hurd and the Metropolitan Police Special Branch have all signed public interest immunity certificates to stop some of the information being disclosed. Lord Taylor ruled last week that a small amount of this should, in fact, be disclosed.

Even if Paul Grecian does win the appeal, he faces similar charges in the US. American prosecutors have sought his extradition and that of another Ordtec director for illegal arms trading during the late 1980s. Under British law, an individual cannot, however, be extradited once tried in the UK.