Arms firm gossip was of weapons for Iran

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Indy Politics
Shopfloor staff at BMARC, the company where the MP Jonathan Aitken was once a non-executive director, gossipped that weapons shipped to Singapore were really bound for Iran, an influential group of MPs was told yesterday.

Mr Aitken has strenuously denied he was ever aware Iran was the true destination.

William McNaught, the company's former managing director, said in answer to the Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee inquiry into how naval guns made by BMARC were sent to Iran in defiance of an arms embargo, that it was "shop-floor gossip" the guns were going to Iran.

Mr McNaught also admitted that he had had doubts that the 140 guns, under a deal known as project Lisi, were not intended for Singapore. In a statement, he told the MPs: "It was understood within BMARC that the quantity of weapons involved in project Lisi was far in excess of Singapore's national needs and that they would be exporting the majority of their products."

Despite that, Mr McNaught said he was never aware that the Lisi guns might be destined for Iran. He maintained no information from a government department - Foreign Office, Department of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Defence or the intelligence services - saying the Lisi guns were going to Iran had ever reached him. This was despite an intelligence report linking the BMARC weapons with Iran having been sent to the MoD and Mr McNaught receiving briefings from the security services. These briefings, he said, did not cover Lisi.

Roger Berry, MP, said he failed to understand how Mr McNaught could run a company selling equipment to Singapore, doubting that was their real destination and yet fail to investigate where they were really going. "You can get paranoid over these things," said Mr Mcnaught.

As for the shop-floor gossip, he assumed that had stemmed from workers seeing photographs of the guns in Iran in defence magazines.

Earlier, MPs quizzed Gerald James, a former BMARC director and chairman of its parent company, Astra Holdings. Mr James stuck to his oft- repeated charge that BMARC directors did know that the guns were bound for Iran and that Mr Aitken was present at board meetings when the Lisi contract was discussed.

Asked how he knew directors were aware Iran was the real end-user, he replied: "It was common knowledge. It was quite openly discussed."

Mr James stressed he relied entirely upon the assurances of Major-General Donald Isles, a fellow BMARC director with close MoD connections, that the Government was aware of, and had approved, the sending of the naval cannons to Iran.

Mr James said he could offer no documentary evidence to back-up his claims since his papers had been seized by MoD police and not returned.