Shipbrokers linked to defendant in arms case: Arms-exporting executives to appeal against convictions as Scott inquiry is told Jordan 'fronted' for Iraq,

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The Independent Online
A FIRM of shipbrokers used by the Ministry of Defence during the Gulf war had close links with a defendant in an arms-to-Iraq trial.

In a case which could prove similar to the Matrix Churchill affair, four former executives of Ordtech, a Reading military engineering company, are appealing against their convictions for exporting parts for an artillery assembly line to Iraq.

They admitted their guilt, but following the production of documents on the orders of the judge in the subsequent Matrix Churchill case, they are appealing.

In a move that has heightened suspicion of Government collusion in arms sales and the existence of a cover-up, lawyers for Customs and Excise, which prosecuted both trials, are refusing to release official documents which could help their case.

One of the four, Colin Phillips, was formerly a director of International Shipbrokers, a London-based firm, and its parent, Anlon. On Tuesday, before it went into private session, the Commons Public Accounts Committee was told that four unnamed firms of shipbrokers accounted for more than 87 per cent of the MoD charters during the Gulf war. The firms were chosen from an 'approved' MoD list. Inquiries have revealed that one of the four was International Shipbrokers.

An executive at the company said last night: 'We were involved in the chartering of ships for the Gulf.' He refused to discuss the firm's role or Mr Phillips any further, saying: 'There are certain things I am not prepared to go into.'

Mr Phillips was fined pounds 1,000 in February last year for supplying an artillery fuse assembly-line to Iraq in 1989. The machinery was to be used by Space Research Corporation (SRC), the company controlled by Dr Gerald Bull, the Iraqi supergun designer.

Mr Phillips and three other defendants were arrested in December 1991 over a contract between the Reading-based Ordtech and SRC in Belgium.

The charges centred on five container-loads of equipment bound for the supergun project. Mr Phillips's co-defendants included Stuart Blackledge, a former SRC employee, and John Grecian. Both Mr Blackledge and Mr Grecian passed details of their activities to MI6.

At Reading Crown Court, all four admitted to conspiring together and with others to exporting the assembly line.

Mr Phillips was cleared of a second charge of conspiring to export sets of components for the fuse.

The court was told false invoices were used to export the fuses in 1989. Mr Phillips's three co-defendants received suspended prison sentences.

The defendants in the similar Matrix Churchill affair were more fortunate. Their trial collapsed, following the release of official documents and an admission from the former Defence Minister Alan Clark that he knew what they were doing.

Prior to becoming a shipbroker, Mr Phillips served in the Army under a senior executive of Hogg Robinson, the Government freight agent for 120 years and the company responsible for overseeing MoD charters to the Gulf. Members of the Commons Public Accounts Committee have been highly critical of what they described as Hogg Robinson's 'cosy relationship' with the MoD.