When Justice falls victim to ‘National Security’
Mark Seddon is the former United Nations Correspondent and New York Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He reported from eighteen countries during that time, including North Korea, China, Haiti, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has interviewed, amongst others, Ban Ki-Moon, Lech Walesa, Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Michael Foot, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney. In a journalistic career spanning over twenty years, he has been Editor of Tribune and an elected member of the UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee. He has written for most British newspapers and many magazines, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Private Eye, British Journalism Review and Country Life Magazine. For a number of years he was a Diarist at the London Evening Standard, and has also reported for, amongst others, the BBC and Sky TV. He lives in Buckingham, England.
As his ear continues to be bent by assorted British Government officials, spooks and former Ministers determined that he introduce further restrictions over disclosure of information in ‘sensitive’ court cases that affect National Security, perhaps Britain’s Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke might take time out to ask a few questions about the February collapse of a major Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecution over alleged illegal sales of armaments to Iraq.
The prosecution case against Iraqi born, British businessman, Praidon Darmoo and his daughter was dropped by the incoming Director of the Serious Fraud Office, David Green CB QC on February 24th, and all charges relating to the alleged illegal twenty million pounds arms sales – primarily of land rovers, but also armour and ammunition – to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence were dropped with it. Trial judge Anthony Leonard QC – who was not required to give a ruling on what was an ‘abuse of process’ application, did so, citing his “deep concerns” at the prosecution’s failure to disclose key information at various junctures and saying “Had they not taken this step, I would have done so”. In doing so, Leonard said that this had been the third serious case to collapse in as many months, for similar reasons of non disclosure by the CPS, and at great cost to the taxpayer.
Darmoo and his daughter, Elizabeth Brown, had been accused of supplying military equipment to Iraq in breach of United Nations sanctions. This despite the fact that Darmoo had been encouraged by officials from the Export Credit Guarantee Department to proceed with the planned sale of equipment, saying that the then Labour Government was keen to develop trade with Iraq. The sales were negotiated following the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, a regime that the accused, Praidon Darmoo and his family had been lifelong opponents of. The Darmoo family are Assyrian Christians and Darmoo’s father had served at RAF Habbaniya, Iraq during the British Mandate. Darmoo was described in court as “a Seventy One year old businessman of good character”. The investigation into Darmoo and his daughter which lasted over four and a half years, failed to show that Darmoo was in breach of UN Sanctions. But when that part of the case failed in the Court of Appeal, it was alleged that the deal was in contravention of UK licensing agreements’ and that monies received from the Iraqi Ministry of Defence were ‘in breach of Iraqi Law’.
During this period, Darmoo was forbidden to travel, his passport confiscated and his assets frozen. The length of the case, the freezing of his business assets and the costs involved in mounting a defence, have left Darmoo’s businesses in ruins. There appears to be no legal way of Darmoo seeking redress and compensation for his huge losses.
Representing Darmoo, Andrew Katzen of Hickman & Rose solicitors, consistently raised serious concerns about non disclosure of important material. On one occasion in July 2007, Darmoo was visited at his home in Surrey by two Customs Officials, who informed him that the meeting was an ‘informality’ and a ‘compliance meeting’. The officers subsequently issued sworn statements to that effect. In the witness statement, not disclosed to the court, Customs officer, Joseph Onofrio said; “In respect of the HMRC visit to Mr Darmoo and Global Trading Group, a decision was made not to caution Mr Darmoo as it was unclear at that stage if he had committed any offences contrary to the then Export Control Act 2002.”
Katzen , a specialist in complex and serious fraud cases and the defence team repeatedly raised concerns about the non disclosure of key evidence that might have assisted Darmoo’s defence. And when the notebooks and briefing notes belonging to the customs officials were finally disclosed on Tuesday 23 February 2012, the day before the case collapsed, Judge Leonard QC said he found it “impossible” to understand why the material had not been disclosed earlier and said that the statements “whether deliberately or by omitting to carry out proper research, were completely misleading”. Katzen said; “This was yet another example of the CPS failing in its duties to properly investigate serious cases and disclose information which could help the defence. Luckily in this case the prosecution were, in effect, forced to drop the case, knowing that otherwise the Judge would do so.”
Lucky also for Darmoo and his daughter that they hadn’t been sought for extradition by the United States Government, with which the United Kingdom has a highly controversial extradition agreement. This allows the US authorities extraordinary powers to remove British citizens for trial and possible imprisonment on grounds of damaging ‘national security’. And had the spooks, Government officials and former Ministers had their way already, it is highly unlikely that you would have been able to read any of the above while Praidon Darmoo and his daughter would now possibly be facing long prison sentences.
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