Alexander George (pictured), 77 and from Bristol, has been jailed for two-and-a-half years and banned from acting as a company director for nine years following his conviction at the Old Bailey yesterday
An elderly businessman who made up to £5million after ‘grooming’ a ‘very naive’ couple into supplying prohibited fighter jet parts for Iran’s military has been jailed for 30 months.
Alexander George, 77, recruited Paul Attwater, 65, and wife Iris, 66, to smuggle prohibited aircraft parts to him in Malaysia from their company Pairs Aviation, based in Crawley, West Sussex.
His ‘web of deceit’ involved sourcing parts from Pairs Aviation which were then exported by the Attwaters via a Dutch shipping company and on to Iran through a network of companies in the Far East.
The couple were handed suspended sentences last month after Mr Attwater insisted he had no idea the ‘superficially innocuous’ nuts and bolts George was exporting had a ‘nefarious’ military application.
George was so concerned about his activities coming under investigation that he trawled the internet in an effort to find out who was wanted by the FBI, CIA and Interpol for flogging aircraft parts to Iran.
He held substantial contracts to source and supply Iranian aviation firms with parts and components for planes and helicopters through companies he owned in Malaysia and Dubai.
The parts he sent in 60 shipments included Russian MiG and US F4 Phantom components.
Paul Attwater, 65, and wife Iris, 66, were handed suspended sentences after Mr Attwater insisted he had no idea the ‘superficially innocuous’ nuts and bolts George was exporting had a ‘nefarious’ military application
Shipments such as these were found to be in violation of weapons of mass destruction controls, over fears they could have been used in Iran’s WMD programme.
The programme has come under increasing scrutiny following the cessation of the Iran nuclear deal by President Trump.
George was questioned by HMRC officers at Heathrow Airport in August and December 2010 and denied he was dealing in aircraft parts at all.
He boldly told officers his trade was in wheelbarrows, goggles and gloves for the construction industry.
The Old Bailey heard that the Attwaters were aware of the need for a licence to export some of their products after boarder officials impounded their goods.
But the couple continued to deal with George, sending him the same parts that had been returned by Customs via a forwarding house in the Netherlands.
They claimed they were tricked by George and only wanted a bit of extra cash to pay for their summer holidays and a Crawley Town season ticket.
Judge Michael Grieve, QC, sentenced the Attwaters to six months jail suspended for 12 month last month and said: ‘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 Attawaters (pictured outside Southwark Crown Court) were jailed last month, where Mr Attawater admitted being knowingly concerned in the exportation of goods with intent to evade prohibition or restriction. While Mrs Attwater, also of Ketley, Shropshire, denied but was convicted of the charge
Sending George straight to prison, he told him he had been ‘entirely responsible’ for the Attwaters becoming involved in the scheme.
‘Unlike you, they could not see how innocuous objects like nuts and bolts could be, or would be, put to nefarious use in Iran,’ the judge said.
‘You, by contrast, knew that that was precisely why your customers in Iran wanted them.’
Judge Grieve added that the George, unlike the Attwaters, knew full well the ‘superficially innocuous items with no obvious military use’ were in fact ‘dual-purpose goods’.
The court heard George fought the five-week trial ‘tooth and nail’ but was ultimately convicted in just two hours in light of the ‘overwhelming evidence’ against him.
The judge said in 2009, Customs officials blocked the exports of some of the goods which required a licence ‘due to concerns about the production of weapons of mass destruction in Iran’.
He added that although the ‘export controls might be confusing, they are there for a very good reason’.
‘That ultimate risk is one with potentially very serious humanitarian consequences. Such a consequence included use against others in nuclear weapons.’
Defending George, Dean Armstrong QC, said: ‘There is every possibility, and I do not say this to be over-dramatic but simply to point out the obvious possibility, that any sentence of imprisonment could be a death sentence for him because of his age and circumstances.’
He told the court how George would find prison ‘a harder task’ due to various medical conditions while his wife would also suffer the loss of his assistance around the house.
George Hepburne-Scott, defending Mr Attwater, said: ‘He genuinely did not believe that these items could have a military application…These were nuts and bolts. He has also been completely open with the authorities.
‘He has been extremely naive.’
HM Revenue and Customs helped lead an investigation into George and the Attawaters. Speaking after George’s conviction at the Old Bailey (pictured), Simon York, Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: ‘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’
Mr Attwater agreed to sign a basis of plea prior to his formal guilty plea, in which he said: ‘I did not know or believe that goods or aircraft components would be shipped to Iran.
‘I did not think there was even the remotest opportunity of these good ending up in a nuclear weapons program.’
George, of Long Ashton, Bristol, denied two counts of being knowingly concerned in the supply or delivery of controlled goods to an embargoed destination but was found guilty by a jury.
He was jailed for two-and-a-half years and banned from acting as a company director for nine years.
Mr Attwater had admitted being knowingly concerned in the exportation of goods with intent to evade prohibition or restriction
Mrs Attwater, also of Ketley, Shropshire, denied but was convicted of the charge.
They were both sentenced to six months jail suspended for 12 months and barred from being company directors for the next six years.
Proceedings against George’s wife, Ruth, 74, were earlier dropped after the judge ruled she had no case to answer.
Simon York, Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: ‘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.
‘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.
‘This case, and these sentences, send a clear warning to others that if you try and shift illegal goods to sanctioned and embargoed countries – we will catch you and you will face justice.’
Luke Dockwray, Senior Specialist Prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service, added: ‘Alex George, Paul Attwater and Iris Attwater sold aircraft components to countries and customers they knew required a licence from the government.
‘Despite being warned the goods they were exporting were at risk of being used in a Weapons of Mass Destruction programme, the defendants introduced new corporate entities into the trading chain to disguise the destination of the sales, in order to continue their supply.
‘The CPS worked closely with HMRC to present the complex trading chains to the jury to demonstrate the criminal activity of these defendants.’