SLA bribery for Shmel rockets exposed in Britain

[TamilNet, Friday, 23 November 2001, 12:48 GMT]
(News Feature) The allegations of corruption in the Sri Lanka Army's purchase of thermobarric fuel air weapons, exposed locally by the Sunday Leader newspaper broke in the British press Friday with The Guardian publishing details of its own investigations into the transactions.

The paper said the two men involved in the trade are Ameer Temour, who lives in an upmarket part of London and drives a Rolls Royce, and SLA Lieutenant-Colonel Upali Gajanayake, who is also director of garments company supplying British clothing giant Marks and Spencer. The British broadsheet said legislation proposed by the UK government would outlaw the bribes that were reportedly paid to senior SLA officers.

British arms dealers have used a loophole in British law secretly to sell the fuel-air weapon to Sri Lanka, the Guardian said. Human rights groups have called for such weapons, which are also known as vacuum bombs, to be banned, it added, saying that the force of fuel-air blasts can burst eyeballs out of their sockets and crush other internal organs.

"The nature of these weapons is so dreadful that they ought to be governed by an international convention such as the kind which outlawed the use of soft-nosed bullets and banned landmines," said Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman of the Liberal Democrats, the third party in British politics. "This emphasises the need for the early passing into law of the export controls bill which would almost certainly have prevented these sales from taking place."

rpo_a-shmel.jpg
SHMEL Infantry Flame Thrower: Russians soldiers have used thermobaric weapons, like this RPO-A, in Chechnya, says Human Rights Watch.
Brokering arms sales from Britain in this way without a UK export licence is not illegal but is due to become so under laws first promised by the Labour government in 1996, The Guardian said. In the recent past the British government has refused export licences for weapons to the Sri Lankan government, it noted.

The Sri Lankan military have received at least two secret shipments of the RPO-A Shmel Bumblebee rockets, The Guardian said. The facts emerged only because parties to the latest shipment fell out over sharing the profits, amid allegations of bribery and sharp practice, the paper said.

The consignment of fuel-air rocket launchers they obtained was old Ukrainian military stock, flown directly to Sri Lanka by cargo plane. Documents seen by The Guardian show that the SLA was originally promised up to date 1999 weapons from the manufacturers in Tula, Russia, and not the 1989-91 Ukrainian models they received. But the Sri Lankan government said this week the weapons had been "refurbished," the paper said.

"The trail of ownership goes back to two men. One is a director of a garment company which supplies Marks & Spencer, the other an arms dealer in north London with a selection of old Soviet and modern Russian military stock for sale," the paper said.

Rapierbase Ltd - the arms dealership - is controlled by a British subject, Ameer Temour, who lives in a large house in Chase Side, Southgate, north London, with a Rolls-Royce parked in the forecourt, The Guardian found. His partner, whose connections clinched the deal with Sri Lanka, was a former army officer there, Lieutenant-Colonel Upali Gajanayake. He is a director of Tristar Apparel which assembles garments for Marks & Spencer.

Sri Lankan army officers demanded bribes to authorise the deal, according to Mr Temour, who fell out with his colleague over money and was eventually thrown off the Gladstone board. Such bribery would be illegal under the anti-terrorism proposals announced but also not yet enacted by the British government, the paper said.

The Sri Lankan government told The Guardian it was investigating these claims, which were denied by three army officers, including the SLA commander himself, Lieutenant-General Lionel Balagalle, who called them "wild allegations".

However, Sarath de Silva, deputy chairman of Tristar Apparel, said the company was engaged in legal action to remove Col Gajanayake from his post on the Tristar board for "bringing the firm into disrepute," the paper also said, though the colonel also denies any wrongdoing.


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