Firm 'helped breach sanctions'

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A GERMAN court was told yesterday that documents exist showing that Royal Ordnance, when a state-run company, co-operated with a German firm to breach arms sanctions. Royal Ordnance is alleged to have assisted in the shipment of arms made by the company, Heckler & Koch, to East Germany, Nicaragua, and to the Middle East.

The Independent reported last month that Heckler & Koch weapons have been found in use in the former Yugoslavia. The United Nations imposed an arms embargo in 1991. There is, however, no evidence that the company shipped the guns direct to the war zone. Heckler & Koch, purchased by Royal Ordnance in 1991, this week accused the Independent of making 'degrading accusations'. It said it 'never sold military weapons to the area of the former Yugoslavia, neither before or after the UN embargo'.

This, according to the German state prosecutors, is not borne out by documents lodged with the court in January 1993 which disclose that the firm supplied machine-guns to Yugoslavia in 1977. This deal was legal.

In 1985, some of these guns were found in Costa Rica, on their way to the Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua.

The trial of Walter Lamp, a joint managing director of Heckler & Koch charged with breaching German export laws, has focused on allegations that in 1987, before the acquisition, H & K used Royal Ordnance to help route illegal arms shipments out of Germany. The court yesterday heard from two senior H & K executives, both of whom had worked in the UK. Judge Siegfried Haage asked one, Manfred Lorenz, a sales executive, whether the British firm had acted as an 'intermediary' in illegal shipments. Mr Lorenz denied that this was the case. He also denied conspiring to ship more than 1,000 machine-guns illegally to the Middle East or that there was a deal to do so with Royal Ordnance.

The prosecution produced a letter it said proved the existence of a deal. It will reveal the contents later in the trial. Mr Lorenz said he could not remember reading the letter.

The case resumes later this month.