'Arms dealers' met top British diplomats

Two British-based businessmen, named by the UN as notorious for supplying arms to Africa's most bloody war zones, have sought advice from British diplomats to help clear their names, The Observer can reveal.

Two British-based businessmen, named by the UN as notorious for supplying arms to Africa's most bloody war zones, have sought advice from British diplomats to help clear their names, The Observer can reveal.

The disclosure will be highly embarrassing for the Government's so-called ethical foreign policy and has prompted calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the nature of repeated contacts between the British Government and former soldier Andrew Smith and businessman John Bredenkamp over the past two years.

The Observer has established that British High Commission staff in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, have held numerous meetings with Smith and Bredenkamp, who is not a British citizen. Bredenkamp asked for advice on how to rebuff allegations of being an arms dealer at a meeting in Harare in March. Smith has also made 'representations' to diplomats over similar allegations.

Both men have been recently exposed in The Observer for their role in supplying weapons and supplies to the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both were also 'named and shamed' in a United Nations report into the illegal looting of minerals and resources from the country.

Bredenkamp, who lives in Berkshire, has been barred from entering the US, and Smith, a former captain of the Royal Engineers, faces UN claims that one of his companies was involved in mercenary-style operations in the eastern region of Congo.

Bredenkamp held two face-to-face meetings with British High Commission staff in Harare. The first was on 14 November last year and the second on 11 March this year. British officials have declined to comment on what was discussed. However, The Observer has established that at the second meeting Bredenkamp was seeking advice on how best to clear his name of some of the charges of arms dealing made against him by British MP Paul Farrelly during debates in the House of Commons.

Smith has also held several meetings with British diplomats in Harare over the past two years, including an October 2001 meeting with the defence attaché. He too has sought advice from diplomats on how to respond to the UN allegations.

Smith has also met British officials in London and in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, where he runs a private airline company.

The revelations have prompted outrage among anti-arms trade groups and prompted calls for an inquiry into why Britain is holding regular meetings at its embassies with arms traffickers. 'It beggars belief that government officials were willing to talk to people involved in the activities that the UN has accused them of,' said a spokesman for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.

Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram called for an investigation into the circumstances of the meetings.

MPs have also condemned the news. 'I find it extraordinary that British commission officials have been meeting two businessmen of highly questionable background. One of them is not even a British citizen,' said Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, who has asked a series of parliamentary questions on the subject. Lamb has also highlighted links between Bredenkamp and BAE.


Paul Harris and Antony Barnett

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

British arms sales to Africa soar
The government was facing condemnation from protesters against the arms trade last night after new figures revealed that the value of arms sales to Africa will more than quadruple by next year.

Kamal Ahmed, political editor

03, Feb, 2002 @1:42 AM

Indonesia deploys British arms against protesters
British military equipment is being used by the Indonesian authorities against civilians in remote parts of the country.

Antony Barnett, investigations editor

27, Nov, 2005 @2:09 AM

Straw faces grilling on arms 'bribes'
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will face questions in the House of Commons this week over his department's role in the UK's largest criminal corruption inquiry.

Antony Barnett and Conal Walsh

09, Jun, 2002 @1:43 AM

Article image
British dealers supply arms to Iran

Customs probe reveals sanctions-busting sales of arms, missile technology and nuclear components

Mark Townsend, defence correspondent

19, Apr, 2008 @11:00 PM

UK forges £1bn secret arms deal with Thailand
Minister agrees to help promote food products linked to cancer.

Antony Barnett, public affairs editor

10, Nov, 2002 @1:48 AM

Article image
British arms trade feeds war in Yemen | Letters
Letters: Britain sells arms to Saudi Arabia, a state that is playing such a disastrously central role in Yemen’s civil war, writes Alec Burt


23, Nov, 2018 @4:25 PM

US accuses British over arms deal bribery bid
US accuses Britain's biggest weapons company, BAE Systems, and its British government sponsor of 'corrupt practice' over a Czech arms deal.

Rob Evans and Ian Traynor in Prague

12, Jun, 2003 @12:04 PM

MoD targets Libya and Iraq as 'priority' arms sales targets
Countries with poor human rights records and those on the front line in the war on terror, including Iraq, have been targeted by the Ministry of Defence as the most lucrative places for British arms companies to sell weapons.

Antony Barnett

23, Sep, 2006 @11:19 PM

Nick Cohen: Our sky-high arms fiasco
Nick Cohen: Feather-bedding British defence manufacturers opens a black pit into which billions of our taxes disappear.

Nick Cohen

22, Sep, 2002 @12:27 AM

Arms bill 'will not deter dealers'
Human rights groups and MPs yesterday called on the government to close a loophole in the export control bill that will allow British arms dealers to operate unchecked from outside the UK.

Jamie Wilson

24, Nov, 2001 @1:56 AM