Defence firm cleared of Iraq arms conviction

A FIRM of defence consultants, convicted on its own admission in an 'arms-for-Iraq' case, was cleared by the Court of Appeal yesterday after lawyers claimed the prosecution abused the process of law by dissuading defence witnesses from giving evidence.

Atlantic Commercial, based in Cuckney, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was fined pounds 7,500 at the Old Bailey in November 1985 for being concerned in exporting, and attempting to export, arms with intent to evade export prohibitions.

Two of the company's officers, Alexander Schlesinger and Reginald Dunk, were fined pounds 3,000 and pounds 12,500 respectively.

The case concerned consignments of Sterling Mark 5 sub-machine guns intercepted by Customs and Excise. After their arrest, the defendants insisted that 'end- user certificates' showed that the arms, although paid for by Iraq, were in fact legitimately destined for Jordan and Sudan.

They planned to contest the case and call witnesses from the Iraqi and Jordanian embassies in London to confirm the legality of the contracts. But they were left with no choice but to plead guilty when the witnesses failed to attend court, Godfrey Carey QC, for the defence, told three appeal judges.

It was not until the Scott Inquiry heard evidence last June that it emerged that Customs officers, backed by the Foreign Office, had deliberately interfered with potential defence witnesses and persuaded the embassies not to allow them to give evidence.