Would-be hero poisoned by his own sting

Ex-soldier fears that Indian treason charge is cover for official incompetence.
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The Independent Online
New Delhi - An ex-military intelligence officer named Peter Bleach thought he was doing the British government a good turn. He tipped off the Ministry of Defence that a cargo of arms was being parachuted down to terrorists in some remote hills of northern India last December, and he collaborated in a sting operation intended to catch the terrorists. Now Mr Bleach is in a Calcutta jail charged with treason.

Under Indian law, the 44-year-old Yorkshireman faces a possible death penalty for "waging a war against India".

Mr Bleach feels that the Indians and British authorities should regard him as a hero. How he ended up in a Calcutta jail cell is a bizarre tale involving international arms dealers, blundering intelligence agencies and a Hindu extremist cult that dances with human skulls. The Independent has learnt that Mr Bleach is afraid the Indian authorities may sacrifice him to hide their slip-ups in letting the terrorist ringleaders evade the snare which Mr Bleach so carefully laid.

"The entire operation should have been a perfect trap. Instead, everybody of any importance was allowed to escape. The case has become high profile, and the Indian authorities need a high-profile accused," he told The Independent.

Mr Bleach opened a "defence supply service" after tours with military intelligence in Belfast and Africa. He was contacted in July 1995 by a Danish firm asking him to supply a quote for the delivery of four and a half tons of AK-47 rifles, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades to an unknown destination in South Asia. He flew to Copenhagen but soon realised that, in his words, "it was anything but a legitimate arms deal. It was clearly on behalf of some terrorist group."

After returning to Britain, he immediately notified the MoD's Export Services Organisation of the terrorist plot and requested advice. In a taped recording of a telephone conversation in early August 1995, Mr Bleach "promised to carry on as normal, and to do nothing which might alert the buyers".

Sources familiar with the case claimed that the MoD officials tried to warn Mr Bleach against going ahead. But the ex-military officer disputed this. "We had no direct knowledge of who the guns were intended for, and indeed the object of the entire exercise was to discover this information," Mr Bleach said.

However, British intelligence officials were keen to monitor how the deal was unfolding. Three times his office defence ministry agents visited his office to collect copies of documents.

Once it became apparent that the destination for the cargo was India, authorities in New Delhi were alerted. By October, a month and a half before the drop, New Delhi had been informed through British channels of everything, according to Mr Bleach: the names of the people involved, the cargo, the type of aircraft used and its registration, even its route.

Mr Bleach's contact was a man in his mid-thirties who called himself Kim Davy and whose New Zealand passport later proved to be a fake.

Indian police hold that Mr Davy had arranged the arms deal on behalf of an extremist Hindu sect, the Ananda Marg. On board the cargo aircraft Mr Bleach was expecting to be intercepted by jet fighters the second they crossed into Indian air space. It never happened.

After taking off from Karachi, the plane landed at Varanasi, took on fuel and then made a detour over Purulia on 17 December to drop the cargo near the headquarters of the Ananda Marg.

The empty cargo aircraft was eventually instructed to land at Bombay airport. Bleach expected the aircraft to be surrounded by armed police and troops. But instead it was ordered to park at a remote side of the airport and left for an hour before Indian officials turned up. The mysterious Kim Davy walked out of the airport and has never been seen since. Mr Bleach and the Latvian crew were arrested, as were six leaders of the Ananda Marg. The top Ananda Marg monks, believed by police to have helped organise and fund the arms drop, also fled.

In the court hearing, due to start in several weeks, Mr Bleach has few chances of defending himself. The Indian police, Mr Bleach claims, have "openly admitted, in front of British diplomats, that they will not tell the courts about my assistance [in exposing the arms drop], and that I must defend myself as best as I can."

The Foreign Office said yesterday, "We are in regular touch with the Indian authorities to ensure that if [Mr Bleach] comes to trial he receives a fair trial."