German official was 'bribed in arms case'

A SUBSIDIARY of Royal Ordnance, Britain's largest arms manufacturer, is being investigated by the German authorities for allegedly bribing a local defence ministry official.

It has been claimed that the wholly-owned subsidiary, Heckler & Koch, bribed an expert witness being called in the trial of a company executive accused of illegally exporting arms to the Middle East.

The prosection has already alleged that British officials at Royal Ordnance, when it was a state-run company, helped Heckler & Koch export arms to banned countries during the 1980s on a far greater scale than so far disclosed by the Scott arms to Iraq inquiry. Heckler & Koch was acquired by Royal Ordnance in 1991, five years after it was privatised and sold to British Aerospace.

Karlheinz Beiter, the state prosecutor, told a court in Rottweil, Baden-Wurttemberg that he had reason to believe that Heckler & Koch had bribed an expert witness with more than 15,000 German marks (pounds 5,929). He was to testify for the defence. Norbert Weise, the prosecutor in Koblenz - where the witness, Siegfried Kapelle, works - told the Independent yesterday that he had since opened a case against both the official and Heckler & Koch itself. No one has yet been charged.

Disclosure of the investigation will embarrass Royal Ordnance, which has responsibility for Heckler & Koch. A spokesman said yesterday that the company was not aware of the Koblenz investigation but confirmed that police had visited Heckler & Koch at its office in Oberndorf. He said: 'I am told that it was a legitimate transaction.'

Mr Beiter alleged in court that a raid on Mr Kapelle's house in Koblenz earlier this month had revealed a payment to him of DM15,780 from Heckler & Koch - far more than was justified, the prosecutor said, for his work as a witness to the court. Mr Kapelle did not report this payment to the German Ministry of Defence where he works. Under German law, he should have done so. The prosecutor also claimed that Mr Kapelle did not inform the court of a close working relationship with H&K before the trial.