Documents 'withheld in arms to Iraq trial': Businessmen seek leave to against conviction

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The Independent Online
A GOVERNMENT lawyer has conceded that official documents of possible relevance to the defence of four businessman convicted of smuggling arms to Iraq via Jordan were not disclosed during their trial last year.

The Court of Appeal heard yesterday that documents indicating that the Government had 'suspicions' that Jordan was being used as a conduit for arms to Iraq existed before the trial took place.

The four executives of Ordtech, a Reading-based company which exported artillery fuse machinery to Iraq via Jordan, pleaded guilty to charges of smuggling after they were told that no government documents would be made available to their defence. Three of them - Paul Grecian, Stuart Blackledge, and Bryan Mason - received suspended prison sentences while the fourth, Colin Phillips, was fined.

They are seeking leave to appeal against their convictions on the grounds that the Government had full knowledge of their activities and that they were unable to prepare a proper defence because no relevant documents were allowed into court. The appeal, if successful, is likely to cause the Government as much embarrassment as the Matrix Churchill trial - which took place nine months after the Ordtech trial - in which official complicity in sanctions busting was revealed.

A Customs officer told the Ordtech trial judge that he had satisfied himself that there were no documents which would justify the claim of government knowledge. The court was also told that Public Interest Immunity certificates would be used to stop such documents being produced.

One Ordtech executive, Paul Grecian, claims that he was briefing the security services and Special Branch on the progress of the transaction and that the information was used to brief Douglas Hurd. He claims that he was told by his MI5 handler that the Foreign Secretary had discussed the Ordtech deal with King Hussein of Jordan in 1989 - before the goods had actually left the UK. He allegedly did so during the course of a discussion intended to establish to what extent Jordan was used by Iraq as a conduit for arms supply.

In March, Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, ordered Andrew Collins QC, acting for Customs & Excise, to collate documents that could conceivably have relevance so that he could judge whether they could justify an appeal. Mr Collins told the court yesterday that more than 2,500 documents which might fit that criteria had been collected. He confirmed that some of these could be 'potentially relevant' and indicated the Government was aware that Jordan was being used as a front for the supply of arms to Iraq.

The Court of Appeal was told that Lord Justice Scott's inquiry into the arms trade with Iraq had set aside a week to consider how much the Government knew about the use of Jordan as a front. The Lord Chief Justice adjourned the case until the inquiry had heard its evidence, which is likely to be in October.