Tuesday, July 05, 2016

HMRC response to FOI request re policing of DSEI

Dear Mr Franklin

Thank you for your email of 4 June about the 2015 Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition. In your email of 4 June you refer to an earlier email that you sent to Jon Thompson on 26 April. Unfortunately the email address you used for Mr Thompson is not valid, so I’m afraid that email was not received.

In your email of 4 June, you stated the following:

Subject: detection and prevention of crime at Defence Security and Equipment International (DSEI)

In April a judge said trying a case of obstruction outside DSEI said:

“the court has been presented with clear, credible and largely unchallenged evidence from three experts that criminal wrongdoing had occurred at past DSEI exhibitions involving the sale of arms to countries which then used those arms against civilian populations and the sale of items that were inherently unlawful such as cluster munitions and items designed for torture and inappropriate restraint. There was, as a result, a compelling inference that such activities would also take place at the 2015 DSEI exhibition.

The court was also presented with clear, credible and largely unchallenged evidence that such criminal activities are not being properly investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted.” 

To set my mind at rest I would be grateful if you could tell me what actions your officers have taken in the past to discover these crimes. 
  • Have you inspected exhibitors prior to the fair? 
  • Do you have police in the fair briefed to look for illegal activity? 
  • Are you vetting exhibitors and buyers to ensure that no human rights abusers are present?
  • What level of resource are you devoting to the prevention and detection of crime at DSEI? And
  • In particular, what have you done to prevent weapons being exported to countries known to use them for human rights abuses such as Saudi Arabia and Israel?

Section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FoIA) gives applicants the right of access to recorded information, where that information is held by a public authority. Requests that require ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, or ask for explanations or clarification are not strictly requests for recorded information and do not fall to be answered under FoIA. Although your questions do not meet the criteria set out in the FoIA, I am happy to treat your e-mail as a general enquiry and to answer your questions accordingly. To the extent that we are providing information about identifiable persons (individuals or legal entities) this is being done outside of any FoIA obligations as such information would be absolutely exempt from disclosure under section 44(1)(a) of the FoIA.

HMRC takes breaches of arms export controls very seriously, and looks into all credible allegations of arms export control offences. HMRC investigators will carry out a full investigation where there is clear evidence of a serious criminal offence.

Since 2005, 17 individuals and 4 companies have been successfully prosecuted as a result of HMRC investigations into breaches of arms export controls, arms trafficking controls or breaches of sanctions and arms embargoes. A further 40 companies have paid financial penalties for breaches of these controls. None of these offences related to the DSEI exhibition.

There is no clear evidence provided to HMRC that criminal offences have been committed at DSEI in relation to UK arms export controls or arms trafficking and brokering controls, for which HMRC is responsible for investigating. No breaches of arms export controls were identified at the 2015 DSEI exhibition. During the 2013 DSEI event, organisers found some literature on the stands of two foreign exhibitors which related to electric shock batons and leg irons. In the UK and the European Union, certain trade in these goods is prohibited because they could be used for the purposes of torture or degrading treatment.

The two foreign exhibitors were expelled from the exhibition and the literature in question was confiscated and passed to HMRC. However, simply having literature relating to these items does not necessarily mean a criminal offence has been committed. HMRC officers assessed the situation and decided it would not be appropriate or proportionate to take further action against these two companies.

HMRC officers work closely with colleagues from other Government departments and agencies, as well as the event organisers, to help prepare for each DSEI event. We make sure that in advance of each event the exhibitors are made fully aware of UK and EU legislative requirements in order to prevent breaches of UK law occurring. Exhibitors’ stands are subject to compliance checks by the DSEI compliance team before and during exhibitions. HMRC officers attend each day to help ensure that exhibitors comply with their export control responsibilities. A team of HMRC officers attended the 2015 DSEi event and were supported by technical staff from the Department of Business, Innovations and Skills (BIS) as well as other government officials.

Determining who should be invited to exhibit at the DSEI exhibition or who should attend is not one of HMRC’s functions. However, we work closely with other Government departments and the organisers in advance of DSEI and if we had particular concerns about an exhibitor or attendee we are able to raise those concerns.

In general, exports of firearms and military equipment require an export licence issued by BIS. HMRC officers work closely with Border Force officials to ensure that any exports of arms and military equipment have a valid export licence. HMRC and Border Force enforce anti-smuggling controls designed to detect and prevent the unlicensed export of arms and military equipment.

We carry out appropriate checks in relation to all destinations, and pay particular attention to those countries subject to United Nations and European Union sanctions and arms embargoes.

I hope this addresses your concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Barham

Head of Customs Enforcement Policy

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