Aitken must have known - PR man

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The Independent Online

Another senior figure from BMARC, the arms company involved in the Jonathan Aitken controversy, yesterday said the Chief Secretary to the Treasury must have been aware of the contract at the centre of the allegations.

Julian Nettlefold, the public relations consultant to Astra, BMARC's parent, from 1987 to 1990, said the contract, known as Lisi, "was such an important part of BMARC's accounts that he must have known about it".

Mr Aitken has said he has "no knowledge whatsoever" of Project Lisi, a contract to ship naval guns to Singapore. The 140 guns, worth £15m, ended up in Iran, in breach of a UN arms embargo and British government guidelines.

Mr Nettlefold added his voice to those of four former BMARC directors - out of a board of seven - who assert Lisi was mentioned in board papers sent to all directors, including Mr Aitken. All four also acknowledge it was rumoured the true destination of the weapons was Iran, which was also confirmed by Mr Nettlefold.

Further indications of the extent of knowledge of Lisi came from a former BMARC technical adviser who worked in the Middle East for three years. The man recalled how, during his job interview in 1987, he was taken on a tour of the BMARC factory. The personnel manager pointed out to him a stack of gun pieces, which he said were going to Singapore. When the adviser commented that was "a lot of guns for Singapore", the manager replied, "They are not staying there, are they?"

The technical adviser recalled how the weapons were shipped around the world by a circuitous route to avoid sanctions.

Mr Nettlefold said one crucial factor in the future of the Astra group, which ultimately went bust, was the prospect of Lisi II, a contract which he had heard was for the supply of "ground cannon for the Iranian army".

It was wrong, he said, to imagine Lisi was to end with 140 guns. "It was not ending by any means, it was current and ongoing. Lisi II was vital to the future of Astra."

Part of Mr Nettlefold's PR brief was to keep the City informed about Astra's prospects. That included telling analysts about Lisi's progress and the chances of winning Lisi II.

`Designed for deniability,' page 3