Meacher urges Scott inquiry to investigate role of Jordan

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The Independent Online
JORDAN was the key secret conduit for British industrialists and officials supplying arms to Iran and Iraq in defiance of United Nations sanctions, it was claimed yesterday.

In a letter to the Lord Justice Scott arms inquiry, Michael Meacher, Labour's spokesman on open government, pointed to 12 instances where Britain used a third country, mostly Jordan, to circumvent UN restrictions. Unless the judge reconsidered this evidence and called senior City and industrial figures, wrote Mr Meacher, he ran the risk of failing to address the purpose of his inquiry - 'to investigate the integrity of government in control of arms exports to Iraq and Iran'.

Instead of concentrating on events in Whitehall and Westminster, and seeing civil servants and politicians, Mr Meacher claimed the judge should also target people who knew how the deals were done.

As well as the issue of public interest immunity certificates and the covert change in export guidelines in 1988, he should also look at the way Britain flouted a UN embargo and helped both sides in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Mr Meacher wrote: 'It is that question - how this trade was conducted, which companies carried it out, which businessmen supervised it, how the intelligence services orchestrated it, and which ministers and civil servants authorised it - which I believe should be the central focus of your inquiry.'

Drawing on evidence to the Scott inquiry, the Trade and Industry Select Committee examination of the supergun affair and the two select committee investigations into Pergau, Mr Meacher has compiled a list, which he says is 'proof of this flourishing British arms trade to both Iran and Iraq throughout the 1980s'. It includes:

The claim of Lt-Col Richard Glazebrook, an MoD arms expert, that he tried and failed in 1985 to stop the sale of rocket parts to Egypt. He believed the real customer was Iraq - UN inspectors found this type of rocket, with nerve-gas warheads, in Iraq after the Gulf war.

When Astra, a British munitions company, bought three businesses in the 1980s, it found that all three had been avoiding UN guidelines and selling to Iraq through third countries.

Ordtec, a British company, agreed to supply 300,000 booster pellets for use in shell fuses. The export licence stated 'Al Fao organisation, c/o Jordanian armed forces', but Al Fao was a Baghdad arms factory.

BMARC, a company owned by Astra, contracted to supply ammunition for the Skyguard anti-aircraft gun to Cyprus. Yet Cyprus did not possess the gun.

Staff at PRB, a Belgian subsidiary of Astra, spoke of 'joker' contracts to supply ammunition to Jordan, Portugal, Zambia, Morocco, Singapore, Cyprus and Thailand - none of whom had the guns capable of firing the shells.

Chris Cowley, the British head of the supergun project, has described how Royal Ordnance made shells for PRB which were then supplied to Iraq via Jordan.

Alan Clark, the former trade and defence minister, has stated it was well-known in the MoD that 'there was a tendency for the trickier items to be consigned to Jordan. It was simply accepted'.