Examination of Witness (Questions 60 -
TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002
60. No, you are only allowed to answer questions.
(Mr Bilton) Let us look at cases. What we are entitled
to do is go back and look at cases. It is all very well for people
to sit here before you and say "I believe this and I believe
that and I behave this way", but we have certain evidence
which we can look at and examine. That evidence came out in the
commissions of inquiry in Papua New Guinea. My judgement was that
this was an appalling state of affairs. I found it very disquieting.
Not only did I find it disquieting, but the Government of Australia
found it disquieting and the Government of the Solomon Islands
found it disquieting and the Government of New Zealand found it
disquieting. One is entitled to draw certain conclusions based
on evidence which is before you. One is allowed to test the probity
of what people actually say. I think that is not an unreasonable
thing to do. When I talk about getting rid of Sandline, what I
am talking about is companies who are prepared to hire in mercenaries,
men who will fight for anybody for money, go overseas to a country
and commit mayhem in a country they have no allegiance to, solely
because they are being paid to do it. That is my definition of
mercenary activity. It is one which is frowned on by many civilised
countries in the world and I believe that "mercenaryism"
is not something which we should sanction by licence.
61. How do you reconcile that position with
your statement that you have no desire to get rid of these companies,
which you believe it is impracticable or silly to try to regulate?
(Mr Bilton) You are the legislators and in a sense
I am passing the buck to you. I raise an issue; I raise something
and I present some evidence which concerns me. I hand it to you.
You are the legislator. Of course it is incumbent on you to look
at the evidence for an argument and against an argument. Is it
possible that we can carry on as we have been doing but actually
prevent mercenaries being hired to work overseas? That could be
done through some kind of Arms Export Control Act.
62. Switzerland, for example, has a penal code
which prohibits Swiss nationals from joining a force which is
designed to fight abroad; the sole exception of course is the
Vatican Swiss Guard. Seventeen persons have been sentenced in
the last six years for having served in foreign armed forces.
Surely that is the answer, is it not? If these people are mercenaries
and we ban the activity altogether, we can have legislation which
would allow prosecution of mercenaries if they are British and
that would stop the whole thing completely. What do you think
(Mr Bilton) I think it is very difficult to define
the term "mercenary" and that is what placed me in a
very difficult position when answering Sir Patrick. There has
been no international definition of what a mercenary is and how
they act. One of the problems facing this Government in trying
to legislate is going to be how to come up with a definition and
whether to have something which fits in with European law. Are
we going to have a law which all of our European partners can
agree on in terms of the recruitment of personnel from overseas
to go and fight in a foreign land for money? I do not know quite
why people are having problems with the idea that somehow "mercenaryism"
is morally repugnant. It is morally repugnant and I do not think
we should beat about the bush here.
63. Yes, and that is why Belgium and Greece
make it illegal as well. They are two European Union countries
and they prosecute.
(Mr Bilton) Sometimes this country sends its own personnel
abroad to help other countries; sometimes that is done covertly
and sometimes it is done overtly, but it is always done in the
interests of the British Government as an extension of its foreign
policy. I think that is legitimate. I really do not want to do
anything which would constrain our Government from doing things
which are in the interests of British foreign policy.
64. Surely it is very clear that what is suggested
in the Green Paper is that those citizens of a particular countryand
it analyses a number of countrieswho take money to fight
abroad and are not part of the armed forces of that country are
liable to prosecution.
(Mr Bilton) This is why I struggle. We had the Special
Air Service Regiment serving in Borneo, in Malaya, in Dhofar,
in Oman. Are we saying that they are mercenaries? Absolutely not.
65. Absolutely not and you point that out very
clearly in paragraph 11 of your submission. What I am trying to
get at here is that it would be quite easy to say, "no mercenaries
can be British". I would have thought it would be fairly
straight forward. If all these countries in Europe can do it,
why can we not?
(Mr Bilton) It is very difficult because of the problem
of defining who mercenaries are. It is extremely difficult. If
it had been easy, we would have done it before now.
66. We have not done it and we are suggesting
exactly the opposite in the Green Paper, are we not? We are suggesting
a licensing regime. May I go back to something Colonel Spicer
said? He said in his examination by this Committee that in fact
much of the work which his company does and other companies do
is not related to actual conflict or armed soldiers fighting.
It is a lot to do with training, advising and setting up systems.
What is the problem with that?
(Mr Bilton) I have no problem with that.
67. Your concern is really with the conflict
element which he states is a very small part of the role of private
(Mr Bilton) What worries me is what happens when it
goes wrong. I posed the question earlier. Here are Colonel Spicer's
100 men overseas getting into difficulty. The question is: whose
responsibility are they? Are they Colonel Spicer's responsibility
or are they British nationals in difficulty overseas? If they
were there protecting oil wells and got into difficulty, we might
well accept some responsibility for them. If we have licensed
them to go over and they get into difficulty, whose responsibility
are they? Are they Colonel Spicer's problem or do they become
the British Government's problem.
68. One has to assume that the legislation would
take account of that.
(Mr Bilton) It is going to be a mighty long piece
of legislation, is it not, if you are going to do this? I cannot
see how you can enforce it, how you can make these companies accountable.
I do not see that you can actually make it work.
69. You did a great deal of investigation into
(Mr Bilton) Only one aspect of it, its activities
in Papua New Guinea.
70. Would you not agree that has coloured your
view about private military companies?
(Mr Bilton) It showed what can go wrong. There is
also this question of the overlap of the interests between the
people who are doing the military operation and the financial
backers behind them who have interests in exploiting mineral wealth
in third world countries. In the case of Executive Outcomes and
in the case of Sandline, there is this overlap, this symbiotic
relationship which does trouble me. At which point does the work
of the military company cease and the work of the people interested
in exploiting mineral resources begin?
71. Colonel Spicer was very clear about that.
He said he had absolutely no interest in economic exploitation
(Mr Bilton) That is not borne out by the facts.
72. May I come back to the question posed in
paragraph 12? You did not answer the question Sir John Stanley
put to you. You are saying that companies like Sandline should
be winkled out, yet you are saying there should not be a regulatory
(Mr Bilton) I think you can winkle them out by making
it difficult for them to operate by having something like an Arms
Export Control Act which prevents them trading third country to
third country if that is organised from the UK. Soldiers cannot
operate without weapons.
Andrew Mackinlay: Can we use the internet to
try to get this particular Act of Congress and the relevant parts
to see whether or not we can look at that? I put in a bid there.
Sir John Stanley: I am sure the Clerk will give
us every assistance.
73. Reading your article, Mr Bilton, and I tried
to probe Colonel Spicer about this, one of the things was that
it seems to me this labyrinthine relationship of companies which
are created and dissolved is something we could address legislatively
and indeed need to do so. Your article demonstrates to me that
not only does that happen, but there is this relationship which
goes from the smoking gun to mineral interests and so on.
(Mr Bilton) Let us suppose that you did not listen
to my strictures and went ahead anyway and decided on legislation.
We would all agree that what we have to have is transparency.
We would also agree that what we have to have is accountability.
Those two things are going to be absolutely crucial. It is clear
that Her Majesty's Government were perfectly aware that Papua
New Guinea and Sandline were thinking about a contract as early
as September of 1996. Things dragged on until the contract was
signed, there was public exposure within Papua New Guinea and
then, at that point, the High Commissioner for Papua New Guinea
is called into the Foreign Office and a démarche is
issued. What I am puzzled about is why we could not have had a
quiet word with the High Commissioner long before that or even
with Colonel Spicer who, not wanting to misrepresent British interests
or the interests of the West, may well have said "OK, I hear
what you say. I think it's time we knocked this on the head".
Why did they wait so long? In terms of transparency, you struggled
and Sir Thomas Legg struggled to find out about the ownership
of Sandline International. Remember. Cast your mind back to 1998
and the headlines about this whole affair and the breach of the
United Nations arms' embargo. It was extremely embarrassing for
this country. I do not doubt for one minute that Colonel Spicer
was operating with honourable motives, trying to help a beleaguered
country. Nevertheless, there was a scandal. When it came to trying
to uncover the ownership of Sandline, what you had from him was
a memo which referred to various companies, Adson Holdings, companies
in Jersey, companies in the Virgin Islands, companies in the Bahamas,
companies with bearer shares, companies with nominees. What you
did not have were any names, who actually owned the thing, what
their interests were other than employing you to go off and do
your job. These are very, very crucial matters. When you talked
to Colonel Spicer in your Committee, one of the things he was
very anxious to do was to draw a distinction between what he did
and what his colleague/patron did, Tony Buckingham. I have documents
here which I will happily provide to the Committee from 1996 which
make it quite clear that there was an overlapping interest between
Tony Buckingham's companies, because he talks there about his
colleagues from Heritage Oil. In another one there is a memorandum
from AB, who we would have to believe is Anthony Buckingham. Its
subject is Colonel Bernie McCabe. It says that Bernie McCabe had
recently joined Sandline. He had recently retired from the US
Army. His background was entirely within Special Forces from the
Vietnam era onwards. His most recent appointment was as commanding
officer of Special Forces Detachment Delta. His job was Regional
Director for the Americas. His task was to develop Sandline business
and exploit opportunities for other group companies where appropriate
in North, Central and South America. He was also to develop the
image/contacts with US Government agencies. He was based in Washington
reporting directly to TSour colleague Colonel Spicerin
London, but ultimately responsible to AB. I do not think there
is any doubt that Mr Buckingham was in the driving seat.
Sir John Stanley
74. We are not going to re-run the Sierra Leone
inquiry; the key point is the Green Paper.
(Mr Bilton) I would say transparency, accountability
and the ability of your Committee, if I may say, to ask questions
and get to the truth is very important.
75. Would you be kind enough to make that letter
available to the Committee?
(Mr Bilton) Yes, I shall make that available.
76. Listening to you talking about the interface
of 150 people and the scenario where it goes wrong, that was precisely
what happened in Sierra Leone was it not? HMS Cornwall had to
help the Sandline helicopter. I mention that partly for the record,
but it seems to me that we have to consider that these are not
watertight compartments. There would probably have to be, even
when it is not going disastrously wrong, an interface with United
Kingdom armed forces and that raises some issues, does it not?
(Mr Bilton) It raises the issues I mentioned earlier.
At what point is the British Government going to have to step
in and rescue one of these companies when something goes badly
wrong. Moreover, if there were a major human rights abuse, would
any British Government official bear any responsibility, having
licensed a particular contract? I do not think you can escape
77. Absolutely. It seems to me that this is
going to be a weapon for governments who do not want to get involved.
They will have the opportunity for denial if things go wrong politically
or militarily and even in terms of human rights. This is one of
the great attractions. If we go down the road of allowing governments
and international organisations to sanction this, these will be
some of the consequences.
(Mr Bilton) I want to be very careful here. I think
that there may be some occasions when deniability is very desirable
in terms of British foreign policy. I shall not beat about the
bush on that. There are times when the ability of our Government
to operate in secret, using our Special Forces, is extremely useful.
I would not wish to do anything which would prevent them doing
that. What I should just like to say to you is this. You know
about this company, Executive Outcomes, which existed across Africa
and did much sterling work in Angola. It stabilised a destabilised
situation in Angola where the oil fields were concerned. There
were tangible links between Executive Outcomes and Heritage Oil
and Gas which is owned by Mr Buckinghamlooking at the question
of transparency and accountability. It may be argued that in some
senses, in its operations in 1997-98, Sandline was a sort of British
version of Executive Outcomes. Executive Outcomes was reaching
the end of its life at that point and its personnel were being
made unemployed. An official document was prepared about Executive
Outcomes operations in Angola and Sierra Leone. I wonder whether
you would allow me to read this out? It is an official government
document and it makes some very telling points.
Sir John Stanley
78. We are rather running out of time and we
have a further witness. We should be very happy to have your paper
and it will go before the Committee.
(Mr Bilton) You will allow me to put it in evidence.
Thank you very much indeed.
79. In your responses to Mr Mackinlay you made
reference to previous operations and I think I heard you say the
SAS were operating in Oman against the Communists in what became
Yemen. Is that right?
(Mr Bilton) Yes.