British arms broker sentenced over Ghana jets


A British court has convicted arms dealer Christopher McDowell of illegally brokering a deal between Ghana and China for the supply of K-8 jets. McDowell made more than $4 million from the unlicensed sale.

According to a statement issued by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Service, McDowell, who is the director of arms brokerage firm Wellfind, appeared at the Guildford Crown Court in Oxfordshire last week charged with selling two of four K-8 trainer/light attack jets to Ghana without a licence from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in violation of Section 9 of the UK’s Trade in Goods (Control) Order of 2003.

McDowell, as arms broker for aircraft manufacturer China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC), entered into an agreement to sell military aircraft to the Ghanaian Air Force in June 2005.

However, the jury said McDowell deliberately ignored the legal requirement for him to apply for and possess a valid trading licence – he only applied for a permit in February 2007 when two of the aircraft had already been supplied. In his defence, McDowell said he never intended to commit the crime but only breached the UK’s trade controls unknowingly because he did not understand the law which requires him to seek clearance from the DTI prior to trading in controlled goods.

He said he got detached after losing control of the K-8 fighter jet deal sometime in 2007 because the Ghanaian government marginalised him and started dealing directly with CATIC – he claimed the first jets were delivered to Ghana without his knowledge. However, Judge Christopher Critchlow said it is clear that McDowell did not take any steps to make enquiries from the DTI or seek legal advice regarding the legal status of his business. He convicted him on two counts of being ‘knowingly concerned’ in the acquisition, supply, transfer and delivery of controlled trade goods with intent to evade the legal prohibition as stated by the law.

McDowell was sentenced to two years in prison. However, the sentence was wholly suspended for two years on condition that he serves the optional sentence of 200 hours of community service. McDowell was arrested by Her Majesty Revenue and Customs Service following the discovery of his involvement in the Ghana arms deal in 2007.

As an agent of Russian helicopter manufacturer Kazan Helicopters, McDowell brokered an earlier, legal, arms deal which involved the supply of Russian helicopters to the Ghana Air Force. Four Mi-17 V5 helicopters arrived in Ghana in December 2004. The helicopters were commissioned in January 2005.

McDowell was being charged jointly with his business partner John Charlesworth, who was implicated in a deal to supply helicopters and jets to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in violation of an international arms embargo. HMRC investigators accused Charlesworth of working with McDowell in brokering a botched deal to supply ten Mi-17 V5 helicopters to South Sudan.

Customs and Revenue investigators produced e-mails showing exchanges between the two arms dealers, business contacts from both CATIC and Kazan Helicopters and South Sudanese vice-president Riek Machar Teny and Major General Dominic Deng of the SPLA discussing the supply of K-8 or F-7 fighter jets to South Sudan.

However, evidence and witness testimonies revealed that Charlesworth and McDowell were only involved in a failed deal involving the acquisition and sale of two civilian helicopters to an unnamed minister in Sudan.

Charlesworth is the director of JMTC, a specialised supplier of all-terrain vehicles and transportation parts to humanitarian organisations worldwide. He also supplies Toyota Land Cruisers to the US Army.