Project Lisi designed for `deniability'

If all had gone according to plan, this was just the first of a series of shipments. Chris Blackhurst and Tim Laxton report

The key to Project Lisi was deniability. According to a former technical adviser who worked for BMARC for more than three years, every stage of the supply of naval guns to Iran was organised in tight compartments.

The guns took a complicated and circuitous route which involved six countries. The code name for the project was originally going to be SILI - Singapore Licence - but someone had second thoughts.

It started in 1987 when Oerlikon, in Switzerland, a leader in precision heavy weaponry, was handed the £15m order for 140 GAM-BO1 naval guns. The guns were to be made by BMARC, the Swiss company's British subsidiary.

To make sure everything went smoothly, and there were no uncomfortable hitches like prying customs officers, an elaborate, but well-tried and tested operation swung into place.

Most of the parts for the guns were made by BMARC at its factory in Grantham, Lincolnshire. The gun mounts were made in kit form at Asco, a specialist manufacturer, in Belgium.

The barrels - just the bits that might attract a sharp-eyed British Customs officer on the dockside - were made by Oerlikon's factory in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Unlike their British counterparts, the Brazilians were not so fussy about what their country was making or where it was going.

Working from models and designs sent out from Grantham, Oerlikon (Brazil) sent the barrels by sea: the shipping was handled by a freight forwarder in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Singapore. There, at the workshops of the state-owned arms dealer Charter Industries in Singapore, they were joined by all the other parts, including the mounts. Everything, for the sake of deniability, pointed to the parts, mounts and barrels going to friendly Singapore.

Owned by the Singapore government, Charter Industries' name crops up repeatedly in connection with supplies to Iran and Iraq. A sister company of Charter, Ordnance Development and Engineering, also made 37 components of its own, using tooling and machinery sent out from Grantham.

The actual assembly was overseen by BMARC and Oerlikon technicians.

From Singapore, the guns could not be sent straight to Iran because of the danger of being attacked by Iraq in the Straits of Hormuz and of being found out, breaking the embargo. Instead, they went to another Commonwealth country, Pakistan: Commonwealth countries do not require end-user certificates. If asked, they were going to be used by the Pakistani navy, which had an order with Charter.

The final leg of this marathon journey involved lorries taking the guns north, to the border with Iran.

"It was an enormous effort, but you have to remember this was an on-going order," said the former technical adviser.

He recalled how the former personnel manager had taken him around the Grantham factory on his job interview in 1987.

"Just in conversation, he said `This is for Singapore,' pointing to a stack of gun pieces. I said `How big is it?' and he replied: `£15m.' I said: `That's a lot of guns for Singapore.' He said: `They are not staying there, are they!' "

By the time Oerlikon sold BMARC to Astra in May 1988, Lisi was in full swing. The takeover, he said, did not affect anything, because it had all been handled by BMARC and the same people were still running it.

Nothing was written down in management papers that would have indicated the illicit nature of the contract. "It's all about deniability.Yes, you know it's going on, but you just make sure it's deniable," he said. It was inconceivable, he added, that BMARC's bosses did not know the identity of the real end-user.

If all had gone according to plan, this was just the first of a whole series of Lisis. In the board report, mention is made of Lisi II. Julian Nettlefold, Astra's former public relations adviser, said: "We were hoping to get Lisi II."

But that never happened because BMARC collapsed and went into receivership.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea