Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Separatists tampered with evidence, intelligence suggests

Prime Minister under pressure on arms exports to Russia

The Prime Minister David Cameron was tonight under pressure to clarify Britain’s policy on arms exports to Russia following claims of hypocrisy over continuing weaponry sales to the country.

MPs revealed that more than 250 open licences for the sale of military or “dual-use” equipment to Russia remained in place despite Government calls for a ban on such deals. Sir John Stanley, chairman of the House of Commons select committee which published the figure, said he had asked Mr Cameron to state urgently whether “all, or only some” of the exports will now be halted.

The Prime Minister told Parliament earlier this week that “future military sales [to Russia] from any country in Europe should not be going ahead”, adding that such exports had already been stopped from Britain.

But MPs warned in a report that dozens of licences remain in place for equipment, ranging from components for anti-aircraft guns to sniper rifles and body armour. French politicians have accused the Government of hypocrisy after Mr Cameron called on Paris to halt a £1bn sale of helicopter carriers to Moscow.

 

Downing Street said yesterday that all sales of equipment to Russian armed forces had been halted and Mr Cameron pledged to review all outstanding export licences, adding Britain would act “very, very swiftly” if they were found to breach any arms embargo.

The recriminations over arms exports came as Whitehall sources said there was evidence pro-Russian separatists deliberately tampered with the wreckage of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in the days after the crash.

Video: Teams work through the wreckage

According to intelligence reports seen by the British Government, this included moving bodies and scattering the parts of other aircraft on the disaster site.

Separatists also discussed plans to hand over MH17’s two black box flight recorders to Russia. The information is believed to have come from conversations intercepted by Ukrainian authorities but the British believe it to be “very persuasive”. “Information is starting to emerge that there have been deliberate tampering with the crash site,” said a source. “We believe this intelligence to be credible.”

Two black boxes recovered from the crash site of the MH17 (Getty) Two black boxes recovered from the crash site of the MH17 (Getty)
Speaking yesterday, Mr Cameron said the tragedy of MH17 had made apparent the consequences of Russia allowing a “lethal cocktail” of weapons and armed personnel to go into eastern Ukraine and called for increased sanctions against Moscow.

He said: “We’ve got to open the site and have a proper investigation, but we need to go further than that – we need to stop the Russian destabilisation of Ukraine and that means further sanctions.”

MPs said the situation as to British supplies of weaponry to Russia nonetheless remained unclear. In a letter to the Prime Minister, Sir John, chairman of the Committees on Arms Export Controls, said: ““Please could you tell me … whether all, or only some, of the UK Government’s approved arms export licences to Russia have now been revoked?”

The Prime Minister pledged to review all outstanding export licences (Getty) The Prime Minister pledged to review all outstanding export licences (Getty)
A total of 31 out of more than 280 licences for the sale of military and “dual-use” equipment to Russia, worth some £131m, were revoked earlier this year.

Officials insisted that the “vast majority” of the outstanding licences are for civilian use and of the £19m of material that went directly to the Russian military before the embargo, some £15m was material for uniforms.

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