Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. I noticed in reply to Sir Patrick Cormack when you were citing examples of where intervention proved to be good you never once mentioned your sortie into Papua New Guinea. Also when Eric Illsley was questioning you in parallel terms you never mentioned the fact that Her Majesty's Government, Jeremy Hanley, were very much opposed to the involvement of yourself and others in Papua New Guinea. It does seem to me that this really is not consistent with what we have just outlined as your policy: British Government very much opposed to your involvement, the international regional organisations believing that intervention was inappropriate, Australian Government, our friends, very much opposed to it and also just to complete the picture, when there was an independent commission of inquiry you, to say the least, do not fully collaborate with the inquiry. What do you say about that?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) I would say that my involvement in Papua New Guinea was entirely consistent with the principles I have outlined. I am not really here to discuss Papua New Guinea but I will answer your question.

  21. No, but I am entitled to ask what I want unless the Chairman stops me, because I imagine it is uncomfortable, it was a rather shameful period.
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) It is not uncomfortable in the slightest. The situation in Papua New Guinea was that there had been a rebellion against not just one government but several governments over a period of ten years. It had caused something like the lost of life of 10,000 people. It had had a drastic effect on the economy and stability of the country and the government of the day in the persona of the prime minister had actually been a party to every single possible attempt to solve the problem peacefully. It was further exacerbated, if one is honest, by the behaviour of the national army because they reacted in a way that under certain circumstances would not have been acceptable by international standards and therefore compounded part of the problem. Our intention was to end that problem using the national forces on behalf of the government and the fact that elements of the armed forces decided, having gone along with it for some time and indeed signed all the various instructions to conduct those operations, that they did not want to do that was an incident which we could not have foreseen. I would not argue with your comments about the British Government's view and the Australian Government's view. They are on the record. The principle of intervention to stabilise a situation which had caused an extensive loss of life is perfectly valid.

  22. Even though the United Kingdom Government and the friendly Australian Government and the regional international bodies were opposed to that sort of intervention? That was really my question, not whether all things were right in the state of Papua New Guinea; I am sure they were not.
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) Six or seven years ago governments did not understand and the international community did not understand what the possible value of private military companies was. What we are discussing today is a long way from the circumstances which pertained then.

  23. We have asked whether it is possible to maintain things like the Geneva Convention and fulfil all the accepted rules and regulations of war and conduct of military operations. How on earth would you do that? Even when you were here before this Committee before, by the time you were giving evidence many of the companies you had been associated with had been dissolved. It seems to me they rise and wane and dissolve. There is no register of soldiers who might be employed. If there were a travesty, how would these people be located? They would disappear into the corners of the earth, probably deep into Eastern Europe or elsewhere. How on earth can we track people down and hold them to account?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) In some of the answers I have given I have addressed a number of those points. In my view the purpose of this discussion of the Green Paper is to try to find a mechanism whereby the lessons of the past and the advent of the private military company can be adapted to the current situation and regulated. There are several elements to it. There is whatever law and regulation is formulated in this country. There is the responsibility of the companies themselves, having been vetted by government or the international community, to maintain the standards and conditions under which they have been granted a licence to operate. Whilst we do not have the full authority of something like the Armed Forces Act we were talking about earlier, we do have the ability to vet our employees carefully and to ensure that they behave, in so far as we can, in a way commensurate with what we are trying to achieve and the standards we have imposed. I cannot think of anybody who works for my organisation or is likely to work for my organisation who might transgress and disappear into the depths of Eastern Europe because I would not employ him in the first place if that were where his natural bolt hole was.

  24. What about the dissolution of companies? It is a fact, is it not, that companies rise and wane, they are set up for a particular operation and dissolve?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) Yes.

  25. I think we made a big mistake last time because we did not press you as to who owned the companies you were involved with at the time. You declined and we did not press you. Surely there needs to be full disclosure at any given time of who owns what company, who are the directors, what is the share ownership and what their other interests are. Would you be prepared to see that?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) I have already said that ought to be part of the registration and vetting process. I think I covered the points of structure, ownership, financial structure, location, employees, officers of the company and I have referred to it in my response to the Green Paper. I did qualify it by saying I thought there should be two levels of scrutiny as part of the vetting process and it is perfectly valid to request that sort of detail, which goes beyond that normally required of a British company, in these circumstances because of the nature of the business, but it should be privileged information for government and the appropriate authorities.

  26. Are you involved in an operation at the present time?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) In what capacity?

  27. In a military company operation. What other capacities would you be involved in?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) It depends what sort you means. Is my company active? Yes, it is.

  28. What is your company called at the present time?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) Strategic Consulting International.

  29. Who owns that?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) I do.

  30. Are you sole owner?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) No, there is one other owner.

  31. Who is that?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) A lady called Sarah Pearson and it is all in the companies registry.

  32. I did not doubt that. Good. That is excellent. In the second paragraph on page 3 of your article in The Sunday Times Review of 24 May 1998 you say, "The real problem comes when you get a country where the insurgents are in the right. We can't work for them because if we did we would be helping to overthrow recognised governments". Would you like that remedied?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) That is probably the most difficult question that a private military company would have to answer. It is more difficult at the moment because there is no specific regulation or law which is designed for the oversight of private military companies. I think there are certain circumstances where it is clear to the international community that people within a company are working against a very repressive regime, Iraq being a case in point. Those sorts of situations do exist and will continue to exist. The point of the piece you have just quoted was to say that it may well be that a regime is being incredibly repressive and everybody can see that the minority, the rebels, whatever you want to call them, are in the right, but if one wishes to operate within the law as it now stands, then one would not as a private military company necessarily be able to go and assist them, particularly if the regime they were rebelling against were still considered the sovereign national government of the country.

  33. Mr Bilton is going to give evidence to us later and he has submitted a document which I want to bounce of you. He says, "Among the documents shown to the commissions of inquiry in Papua New Guinea was an itemised bank statement for Sandline Holdings' account in Hong Kong. This had been obtained by the PNG Attorney General from the Independent Commission Against Corruption before the British relinquished control. The Government of Papua New Guinea had paid $18 million dollars into Sandline's account as an advance payment. For the first time it was possible to follow a money trail and study how a mercenary company operated by examining closely how it ran its finances. The second commission of inquiry made allegations of corruption against two Ministers in the Papua New Guinea Government with whom Sandline International had been negotiating. One of them actually signed the Sandline contract on behalf of his Government".[2] As you rightly say, you are not here to answer on Papua New Guinea, but it does seem to me that what this illustrates is that there needs to be a clear audit trail in every operation and surely it must be available, not just to some vague spook who does positive vetting, but at least in the public domain, even retrospectively to Parliament and to the courts. What say you to that?

  (Lt Colonel Spicer) My answer to that is that there are several elements to it. The financial transactions between a private company and a government employing them are really a matter for disclosure by the client, by the government, unless the terms and conditions under which that company is authorised to carry out its business, by perhaps its own sovereign government or the country where it is registered, require them to make a full disclosure of all financial transactions. That is not the case with all commercial companies, but if it were the view of Parliament and Government that that was a requirement, then the private military company that wished to conduct its business could not object to that. To me it is part of the requirements for registration and vetting. Whether they should be in the public domain or whether they should remain privileged information, I have my own views on, but it is really for Government and Parliament in formulating legislation to make that decision and not me.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  34. How many private military companies are there at the moment?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) In the United Kingdom?

  35. Yes; and, if you have any idea, internationally as well.
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) It rather depends how you define them. One of the problems, which was certainly addressed in the paper, is what constitutes a private military company.

  36. How many of them are roughly comparable to your own? Take that as a basis.
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) Half a dozen. Again, it is a very, very tricky area. It is one of the reasons why I wanted to make a point in my response about definition and terminology.

  37. I should like to pursue that. Roughly how many do you think would pass muster if we had the sort of tight regulatory system for which you are arguing both in your paper and this morning?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) I cannot answer that question on behalf of any other company. Of the ones I know, which I have in my mind as being private military companies, I think the majority of them would.

  38. You do.
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) Yes.

  39. Moving on to your own company, how many do you employ at the moment?
  (Lt Colonel Spicer) There are 12 permanent employees, but there is a vetted database of approximately 150.

2   See Evidence, pp Ev 13 to Ev 14, paragraph 6. Back

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