It has been claimed that Britain's largest arms manufacturer - while a state-run concern - was involved in a plot in the 1980s to supply banned countries with arms.
The Independent published news of the court case last week and also separately reported that guns made by the same German manufacturer, Heckler & Koch, had been exported to Serbia after the imposition of the United Nations embargo on the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Heckler & Koch was then wholly owned by Royal Ordnance. The company has denied shipping weapons directly to Serbia but has conceded that a number of 'hunting rifles' were exported. Royal Ordnance said it would never breach British law but could be held responsible if weapons were sold on to third parties.
The presence in Serbia of Heckler & Koch weapons is not a matter under consideration by the court in Rottweil, Baden-Wurttemberg. This case focuses on allegations that a managing director of the company, Walter Lamp, breached German arms exporting laws for nearly 10 years prior to 1987, with the help of Royal Ordnance. In 1987, Royal Ordnance was sold to British Aerospace and in 1991 the company bought Heckler & Koch.
The prosecution in the trial, which reconvened yesterday, claims that arms from Heckler & Koch were exported via Royal Ordnance, which allegedly provided false papers and some components, to a variety of illegal destinations including East Germany and Nicaragua. Mr Lamp denies he was responsible for licensing exports.
The prosecution is concentrating on a shipment of machine-guns exported via Britain officially destined for the United Arab Emirates. The ship carrying the guns, which set sail from Liverpool, was seized en route by Italian police in 1987 who discovered Iraqi naval officers on board and believed that Iraq was its real destination. It was illegal at this time for German firms to export weapons to the UAE, but not for UK firms.
The judge, Siegfried Haage, yesterday allowed around a hundred documents on to the court record which are said to show that Royal Ordnance was involved as a 'smokescreen' for illegal Heckler & Koch exports. They include bills, export papers and pro forma invoices.
The defence then asked Judge Haage to terminate the trial on the grounds that following the reports in the Independent, which have caused uproar in the German media, Mr Lamp could not be assured of a fair trial.
'There is no chance for a fair trial unless the accusations regarding arms exports to Serbia are cleared,' Siegfried Kauder, for the defence, said. 'The German press does not want to poison the climate but they do if they take the Independent stories and reprint them.' He denied that Heckler & Koch had exported weapons to Serbia.
Judge Haage is to consider whether to end the trial. The case continues next week.Reuse content