MPs to probe Aitken firm

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The Independent Online
A powerful all-party Commons committee will today launch an investigation into whether BMARC, a company of which Jonathan Aitken was a non-executive director, broke British and United Nations arms embargo, writes Chris Blackhurst.

The Trade and Industry Committee received assurances from Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, at a private meeting yesterday that his department would co-operate with their inquiry. Mr Heseltine's agreement and the committee's inquiry will cast a cloud over Mr Aitken in the autumn as he grapples with the public spending round.

Naval guns manufactured by BMARC and exported to Singapore eventually found their way to Iran in breach of the embargos. Mr Aitken has consistently denied that he was aware that the order, codenamed Project Lisi, was destined for Iran.

The probe is expected to lead to the postponement of an inquiry by the committee, due to start in the autumn, into the Government's controversial nuclear industry sell-off. That study could prove awkward for Mr Heseltine, who has presided over the privatisation.

A senior committee source said it was "reasonably satisfied" with Mr Heseltine's promises during a one-hour meeting in the Commons. This was in contrast to doubts expressed by committee members when Mr Heseltine made his dramatic statement a fortnight ago inviting the Committee to look into BMARC.

The Committee was told it would receive information in four areas: from ministers, named civil servants, Customs and Excise and the intelligence services. This last may prove to be the most significant of all. On supergun, crucial reports from MI6 were not made available to MPs.