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.

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits