Iraq arms evidence held back from trial: Scott inquiry told of plot to obstruct defence case

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FOREIGN OFFICE and customs officials 'connived' to obstruct defendants in a criminal trial from presenting their case, the Scott arms-to-Iraq inquiry was told yesterday.

Confidential correspondence read out at the inquiry revealed that Jordanian and Iraqi embassy staff based in London were dissuaded from giving important defence evidence on behalf of three British businessmen on trial for illegally exporting sub-machine guns to Iraq.

Customs seized 200 sub-machine guns on a ship in 1983. They arrested several men, including Reginald Dunk, a Nottingham businessman. Customs claimed end-user certificates showing the guns were for Jordan were false and Iraq was the destination. The sale of 'lethal' weapons to Iran and Iraq was banned at the time.

Investigators questioned senior officials at the Jordanian and Iraqi embassies who claimed Iraq had paid for the guns but had given them to the Jordanian Army. Customs did not believe the story but instead of allowing a jury to decide, wrote to Foreign Office officials suggesting approaches be made to the respective ambassadors warning of the 'potential embarrassment' of being cross-examined in court.

One Foreign Office official, named only as Mr Nixon, agreed the ambassadors could be persuaded. He wrote that 'friendly words' and 'gentle inquiries. . . would be fruitful'.

At the Old Bailey trial in November 1985, Dunk, 66, described by Judge James Miskin as the architect of the scheme, was fined pounds 20,000 and ordered to pay pounds 7,500 costs. He changed his plea from not guilty to guilty.

Lord Justice Scott, questioning Sir Stephen Egerton, a former assistant under-secretary at the Foreign Office, said of those discussions by government officials: 'It seems to me as a lawyer disgraceful.' Sir Stephen, who said he was unaware of the discussions, replied: 'I would say it was a bad show.'

Sir Stephen, former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said the case was the first suspicion Iraq was using compliant third countries to bypass arms embargoes. Iraq was bribing middle-ranking Jordanian military officers, he said.

Sir Stephen also told the inquiry how MPs were kept in the dark about vital changes in the Government's defence export policy to Iran and Iraq.

Asked why MPs' questions in Parliament about Iran-Iraq did not get comprehensive answers, Sir Stephen thought that answers framed by mandarins for Sir Richard Luce, their minister, were quite 'forthcoming'.

How, Presiley Baxendale QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked, was the answer to Michael Latham, Tory MP for Rutland and Melton, in April 1985, forthcoming? 'It gives a summary of sub paragraph three of the guidelines,' he said. 'And because the answer is longer than the question.'