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Arms broker accused of £3m illegal sales
Published 10/01/13



A MAN from Shiplake illegally touted fighter planes and weapons worth millions of pounds to rebels fighting in Sudan, a court heard.

Christopher McDowell, of Badgers Walk, is accused of ignoring a government ban on selling arms to the African country which has a history of civil war.

Guildford Crown Court was told that the 55-year-old made £3 million from the unlicensed sale of four Chinese warplanes to the Ghana air force.

McDowell, who is chief executive of arms brokers Wellfind, is on trial with his business partner John Charlesworth, 50, from Aldgate, Ketton, Lincolnshire.

The pair were said to have pushed for sales of Chinese fighter jets and Russian attack helicopters in southern Sudan as rebel fighters waged war against troops from the north.

Andrew Marshall, prosecuting, told the jury that McDowell was operating as an agent for the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation and for Kazan helicopters in Russia.

However, his business in Ghana between 2005 and 2007 was conducted without first obtaining a licence from the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr Marshall said: “What this case is about is what is called arms brokering and also promotion of arms sales and arms supplies to an embargoed country.

“This case relates to three things. It relates to the sale, or arranging the sale, of military fighter jets from the Republic of China to the Republic of Ghana in west Africa, the dealing of night vision goggles from Russia to the Republic of Ghana and promoting the sale of military goods to Sudan in Africa.

“The military goods covered here were helicopters and some fighters.”

The jury was read extracts from documents seized from McDowell’s home and Wellfind’s headquarters and a series of email exchanges which detailed conversations between McDowell, Charlesworth, business contacts from Catic and Kazan and senior figures in the South Sudanese government.

Among those speaking regularly with the arms dealers was South Sudan’s vice-president Riek Machar Teny and Major General Dominic Deng, of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

By October 2007, a draft contract was in place to supply two Russian Mi-17 V5 helicopters in a contract worth £16.5 million. Mr Marshall said that although the deal never materialised, it was an offence to have promoted sales of military kit in Sudan.

The court heard that McDowell, who had passport stamps for Juba and Nairobi in Kenya, led a delegation of officials from Catic to Sudan in July 2009.

A document found at his office entitled “SS Trip” listed brochures for K-8 jets, F-7 fighters and helicopters manufactured by Catic.

Mr Marshall said: “It seems to be a list of things that needed to be taken to South Sudan. It’s a list of what to take because it is what he is promoting in South Sudan when he’s going there.”

The court heard McDowell also organised the sale and delivery of Chinese K-8 jets to the Ghana air force in February 2007 before he applied for a licence to conduct the deal. He applied to the DTI in February 2007 to broker the deal for four of the jets to be shipped from China to Ghana.

However, an official spotted a news report that two of the jets were already in Ghana and had been used in an air display during the country’s 50th anniversary celebrations in early March 2007.

Documents showed the jets had arrived from China in late February — six weeks before the DTI granted the licence.

Mr Marshall said Wellfind received £3 million from Catic for the Ghana deal. However, the delivery of the first two jets was illegal because the licence was not retrospective.

“It provides no cover of any sort for actions prior to its issue,” said Mr Marshall.

“This is what Mr McDowell does for a living. You might have a greater expectation if it’s somebody’s job to know the rules and abide by them.

“You cannot start dealing with contracts without a licence in place.”

The prosecutor said McDowell was also in breach of the export rules in relation to Russian night vision goggles Wellfind had shipped to Ghana as part of a legitimate deal to supply Mi-17 V5 helicopters to the country’s air force.

The businessman’s two-year licence for that deal had expired before the return of a pair of faulty goggles which had been sent back to be fixed at Kazan’s factory in Moscow.

McDowell is charged with two counts of dealing arms in Ghana without a UK licence and two counts of promoting arms sales in Sudan.

Charlesworth faces two counts of promoting arms sales in Sudan.

Both men deny the charges.

The trial, which is expected to last three weeks, continues.


Published 10/01/13

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