Appeals Court Acquits Executives; Government Suppressed Evidence
LONDON (AP) _ Three British executives were acquitted Tuesday of exporting illegal arms to Iraq, including one who was working for British intelligence agencies at the time.
The appeal judges said they were overturning the convictions of the three men because the government withheld evidence it knew about the sales.
It was the second key case exposing the Conservative government’s decision in the late 1980s to secretly relax restraints on arms sales to Iraq.
The embargo was reimposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
The company at the center of Tuesday’s hearing, Ordnance Technologies Ltd. or Ordtec, was also indicted in the United States for involving a New Jersey munitions maker, Rexon Technology Corp., in arms sales to Iraq.
Ordtec managing director Paul Grecian says he reported to Britain’s intelligence agencies on the military buildup by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein before the Kuwait invasion and the Gulf War.
Grecian, two other Ordtec executives and a shipping agent were convicted in February 1992 of exporting machinery to make shell fuses to Iraq while pretending it was destined for Jordan. The exports took place between 1988 and 1990.
Grecian, his technical manager, Bryan Mason, and a project engineer Stuart Blackledge, received suspended jail terms of between six and 12 months, and shipping agent Colin Phillips was fined $1,580.
In February, a U.S. federal judge ordered Rexon Technology Corp. of Wayne, N.J., to close within six months and pay a $500,000 fine for planning an illegal shipment of 300,000 artillery parts to Iraq before the Kuwait invasion.
Ordtec and Rexon were indicted in New Jersey in December 1993 on charges of lying to the U.S. government about the destination of the fuses.
Chief Justice Lord Taylor, issuing the ruling with two other appeal judges, accepted that the Ordtec executives were pressured into pleading guilty in 1992 by the prospect of suspended sentences. They also feared heavy sentences at a long public trial so soon after the Persian Gulf War.
The judge rejected government arguments that they had to suppress documents showing Grecian’s intelligence connections for security reasons.
``The documents now before the court ought to have been made available before the trial,″ said the Chief Justice.
The documents showed that Grecian worked for the British intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6, and Special Branch, the intelligence arm of the police.
Similar charges against executives of another British-based company, Matrix Churchill, collapsed in 1994 when the defense minister at the time said he encouraged the sales.
A judicial inquiry into the arms deals and policy is to report this year.