Tobacco firm accused of Iraqi arms deal: French TV programme alleges mysterious international company was key player in shipment of 9 million anti-personnel mines, which were used in the Gulf War. Chris Blackhurst reports

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The Independent Online
A MYSTERIOUS international tobacco company, which has an office in Britain and enjoyed close ties to the security services, was accused last night of being a key player in the supply of arms to Iraq.

The respected French television programme Marche du Siecle said that the company, Casalee, based in Luxembourg and with a large branch in Berkshire, acted as an intermediary for a huge shipment of mines to Iraq in 1986.

About 9 million of the anti-personnel mines, which explode when stepped upon, were sent to Iraq and used by the Iraqis during the war with Iran, the Gulf war and the attacks on the Kurds.

The mines were made by Valsella, an Italian company, and were paid for by BNL, the Italian bank that acted for Iraq on many arms contracts. They were shipped to Iraq via Singapore.

According to the French programme and also a new book, Spider's Web - Bush, Saddam, Thatcher and the Decade of Deceit, by Alan Friedman, Casalee put the deal together for the Iraqis. An Italian called Mario Fallani acted as the firm's Middle East man.

Casalee has long been suspected of being a 'front company', closely involved with the Western intelligence services. In April 1984, a deputation of Arab League foreign ministers informed the Belgian government that the company, which had a strong presence in the country, should cease supplying arms to Iran.

When contacted, Casalee protested it was merely trading in tobacco. However, an arms trader, Ruy Mendes Franco, was able to produce a catalogue from the company listing a range of items made by the South African firm Armscor and the Israeli defence contractor Israeli Military Industries.

One of the items was the South African 155mm artillery gun developed for Armscor by Gerald Bull, the 'Supergun' inventor.

Two senior executives allegedly involved in the British end of Casalee's arms supply business were John Bredenkamp and Robert Jolly. Mr Bredenkamp is based at Casalee's offices at Hurst, Berkshire. A Rhodesian national, he worked for Casalee in Britain until 1979. He spent most of the next decade working for Casalee overseas. He returned to Britain in 1990, and set up Casalee Services, which in its first 17 months' existence had a turnover of pounds 42m.

Robert Jolly left Casalee in 1987 to join the arms company BMARC, later taken over by Astra, the ammunition supplier. He now works for Heckler and Koch, part of British Aerospace.

A spokesman for Casalee in Berkshire said last night that he could not comment on the claims.

Earlier this year, the company was taken over by the American conglomerate, Universal Group. Mr Bredenkamp, the spokesman said, was travelling and could not be contacted.