Shadowy figure faces arms scandal inquiry

MPs to question maverick figure with contacts in world of espionage
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Indy Politics

Westminster Correspondent

It was a terrible place to break-down, on a bleak road in Argyll. As the two men struggled to repair their van, a car pulled up. Instead of offering to help the driver got out, drew a pistol, shouted, "I'm a soldier you know" and unloaded two shots over their heads.

In the circumstances, the comment of one of the men - "it was not the kind of thing that happens in the countryside in the middle of the night" - was priceless.

Today, the brandisher of the pistol appears before MPs. For Stephan Adolphus Kock it will be a rare public appearance. For the Trade and Industry Select Committee it will be a chance to examine one of the most shadowy figures to have risen from the worlds of intelligence and international arms.

Mr Kock was fined pounds 650 for the incident in Argyll in 1990. His lawyer explained his client had spent his career in the defence industry and had developed an acute concern for his personal safety.

At the time, along with MP Jonathan Aitken, he was a director of BMARC, the defence supplier accused of sending arms to Iran in defiance of a government embargo. Today, MPs will quiz Mr Kock over his knowledge of the Iran order. He will almost certainly leap to Mr Aitken's defence and say directors knew nothing of the true destination of naval guns.

Drawing on a background in business and high finance - he was a consultant to the Midland bank as well as a director of BMARC and its Astra parent - Mr Kock, who is a big, bluff character, will impress MPs.

There are, though, questions the committee would do well to ponder. Secretive about his life, Mr Kock is thought to have been born in 1927 in Czechoslovakia. At some stage he emigrated to Rhodesia and served in the country's air force.

Subsequently he took British citizenship and worked for the British government. A brochure issued by the Midland boasted "he carried out specialised duties for the British government in various parts of the world", including serving with the SAS.

An Astra newsletter said "he carried out special assignments for the Foreign Office", presumably a reference to MI6.

A measure of Mr Kock's secretive role can be gleaned from two of the biggest scandals of recent times. He has admitted to having been involved in the Pergau dam project in Malaysia. BMARC minutes reveal he had inside knowledge of the Malaysian defence package which formed the quid pro quo for British aid for Pergau.

When Astra bought the Belgian firm, PRB, in 1989, it discovered the company was making propellant for the Iraqi supergun. Mr Kock contacted the security services. He later told a Department of Trade and Industry inquiry that he had summoned the deputy head of MI5 to Astra's headquarters.

MPs may want to reflect on this, and his undoubted clout with the intelligence services, if he claims he thought Singapore's small armed forces really required 140 naval guns, and he did not bother to find out where they were actually going.