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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

British businessman jailed for making millions smuggling jet parts to Iran 

Alexander George manipulated Paul and Iris Attwater into assisting him to circumvent arms controls

Iranians walk by a fighter jet at the Holy Defence Museum in the capital Tehran. AFP 
Iranians walk by a fighter jet at the Holy Defence Museum in the capital Tehran. AFP 

He told British customs officials that he traded goggles, wheelbarrows and gloves but on Thursday an Old Bailey court convicted Alexander George of earning 5 million pounds (Dh 23.6 million) smuggling fighter jet parts to Iran.

The retired 77-year-old British businessman from Somerset in the west of England was sentenced to two and a half years under weapons of mass destruction control laws. He was found guilty of shipping the parts, which included Russian MiG and US F4 Phantom jet components, through a network of companies across the Middle and Far East that were eventually smuggled into Iran over a period of six years from 2010.

Alongside George, 65 year old Paul Attwater and his wife Iris, 65, were handed suspended six-month prison sentences for their part in helping source and ship the weapons parts in violation of UK arms laws.

Judge Michael Grieve QC called the couple “very, very naive” as he sentenced them saying that he accepted their claim that George had manipulated pair.

“The fact that you were, in effect, groomed by Mr George I accept - he deceived you … I do not, for one moment, think that either of you are bad people. You have, in my view, been very, very naive.”

The Attwaters told the court that they had been tricked by George and had only wanted to earn some extra holiday money and to get a season ticket to Crawley Town football club, British media reported.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Grieve told George that “Unlike you, they [the Attwaters] could not see how innocuous objects like nuts and bolts could be, or would be, put to nefarious use in Iran.

“You, by contrast, knew that that was precisely why your customers in Iran wanted them.”

Alexander George, a businessman from Somerset has been jailed for trafficking fighter jet parts to Iran in violation of weapons of mass destruction controls.
Alexander George, a businessman from Somerset, has been jailed for trafficking fighter jet parts to Iran in violation of weapons of mass destruction controls.

George claimed he had no idea that the parts could have ended up in the Iranian nuclear programme despite being warned of the possibility by authorities.

Under UK law, companies handling or shipping military equipment or ‘duel use’ items that have both civilian and military industries require permission from the government.

George was investigated by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) who suspected he was shipping the weapons parts and interviewed George at Heathrow airport in August and December 2010. He told the officers he had nothing to do with jet parts and that his business was simply in the sale of goggles, wheelbarrows and gloves.

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But investigators didn’t buy George’s story.

“These three sold banned items that ended up in Iran. They didn’t care what these parts might be used for, as long as they got paid,” said Simon York, the director of HMRC’s fraud investigation service, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

“This was a calculated and cynical attempt to undermine strict trade embargoes and internationally agreed controls. They knew the rules and weaved increasingly elaborate plans to stay under the radar.”

George brought in the Attwaters’ Pairs Aviation in West Sussex to buy the aircraft parts from the US and ship them through his companies in Malaysia and Dubai before they secretly smuggling them to Iran. When they became worried about investigations, they added another step by shipping the parts through the Netherlands. The court heard that when George also searched the internet for information on people wanted by the CIA, FBI and Interpol for selling weapons parts to Iran.