A MAN from Shiplake has received a two-year suspended prison sentence for illegally supplying military fighter jets to Africa.
Christopher McDowell, 55, of Badgers Walk, was found guilty by a jury at Guildford Crown Court of two charges of breaching the trade in controlled goods.
The arms broker faced a maximum of 10 years behind bars for failing to tell the British authorities about the £16 million deal he had negotiated for the sale of four Chinese jets and a flight training simulator to the Ghana Air Force.
He sighed with relief as Judge Christopher Critchlow delivered sentence, as did members of his family in the public gallery.
The judge said it was “not without hesitation” that he spared him a prison term.
McDowell was ordered to pay £10,000 in costs and carry out 200 hours of unpaid community work.
The court had heard he set up the deal for the K-8 jets and flight simulator to be shipped to Ghana in 2007 but failed to apply for an export licence from the Department of Trade and Industry.
McDowell, who netted £3 million from the deal, only notified officials after the deal had been signed by which time he had received two of the four commission payments.
By then, two of the jets were in transit to Ghana to take part in a flypast to celebrate the country’s 50 years of independence. An investigation was launched after a DTI officer read a news report about the jets and raised the alarm.
However, it took another five years to bring the case to court.
McDowell said he had held off from applying for a licence until he was satisfied he had all the paperwork together and claimed the DTI sanctioned the deal for the remaining two jets to be shipped to Ghana just two months later.
The judge said McDowell had held off from applying for a licence in case it was not granted.
He said: “Had you applied for a licence at the time of the agency agreement or at the beginning of the negotiations with the MoD in Ghana and had failed to gain a licence, you would have stood to lose a lot of money from the deal.
“You applied for a licence less than three months before the first two jets went to Ghana... The fact is the authorities could not have stopped the delivery of the jets had they wanted to do so. There was very considerable financial benefit to you and this must not be overlooked.”
The judge told McDowell that due to the “extraordinary” amount of time that it took to bring him to justice and because of his previously good character, he had narrowly avoided being sent to prison.
Mr Critchlow said had also taken into account the fact that the defendant had split from his wife and mother of his four children while waiting for the case to come to court.
He told McDowell: “For five years, this has been a matter I’m quite sure has worried you and it’s a period of delay that should not have occurred. I have had no explanation why it has taken so long.
“Justice delayed is justice denied and I believe that’s true in this case. It’s not without some hesitation that I’m just persuaded that, on the facts of this case, the two-year imprisonment should be suspended for two years.”
Speaking after the trial, Peter Millroy, assistant director of HM Revenue and Customs, said: “With many years’ experience in the industry, McDowell knew what he was doing and illegally brokered the aircraft to Ghana without a valid licence.
“We are delighted that after an extensive investigation he has been brought to justice. HMRC will find people like McDowell who decide to break the law.”