banks named in Gulf War Syndrome court case
BRITAIN'S biggest high street banks and a Scottish engineering company have been accused of helping Saddam Hussein to build Iraq's chemical weapons infrastructure in the run-up to the first Gulf War.
The accusations are part of a class action lawsuit filed this week in New York by 16 former US servicemen who have all developed symptoms of so-called Gulf War syndrome.
Lloyds TSB, Barclays and Natwest, part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, are accused of helping Saddam to secure finance to buy ingredients and equipment used in the production of chemical weapons in the late 1980s.
Weir Group, a Scottish engineering firm, is also named in the suit along with a small chemical distribution company from Poole, Dorset, called BDH, now owned by Merck, the German chemical group.
Oxoid, another British laboratory chemicals group, is also named in the lawsuit.
The 16 veterans are all disabled and some have fathered severely handicapped children since they were exposed to nerve and mustard gases during the first Gulf War. The lawsuit claims that the companies and banks are directly responsible for their illnesses because Iraq would not have been able to manufacture the deadly weapons without their help.
The UK companies are among 44 businesses named in the class action, which was filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Tuesday.
Gary Pitts, the Texas lawyer representing the 16 men, believes that as many as 100,000 servicemen and civilians have developed Gulf War syndrome and have had their symptoms recognised by the US Veterans Administration. It is expected that all 100,000 will eventually join the class action.
Mr Pitts was able to single out the companies using confidential documents provided by the Iraq Government to United Nations weapons inspectors. The documents were part of the 12,000-page dossier given by Iraq to the Unmovic weapons inspectors earlier this year.
Weir Group is described in the Iraqi dossier as a supplier of pumps in 1987. UN sources said that Weir's name had figured many times in its research on supplying Saddam's military-industrial complex.
Weir said that it had never engaged in any illegal activity or provided equipment that had been used to make chemical or biological weapons.
"The pumps that were provided in 1987 were for bona fide purposes as far as we are concerned," Alan Mitchellson, a lawyer at Weir Group, said. "We will vigorously defend this lawsuit. We have done nothing wrong."
Merck, which now owns BDH, said that it had not yet been served with legal papers concerning the case and could not comment.
The UN dossier obtained by The Times alleges that BDH, along with a number of other companies, provided chemicals to Iraq that were used to make the deadly VX nerve gas.
The UK banks are each accused of being a so-called "correspondent bank" on letters of credit obtained by Saddam's Government in connection with the purchase of goods or services used to acquire or produce chemical weapons of mass destruction.
A spokesman for Unmovic said that many of the companies named in the 12,000-page dossier, and similar dossiers provided by the Iraqi regime since the end of the first Gulf War, had been contacted and asked to co-operate with weapons inspectors.
He added that many companies that did business with Saddam's regime in the run-up to the first Gulf War might not have been aware that they were participating in a weapons programme. Mr Pitts said that such a defence was invalid.
The suit does not specify a compensation figure but, if successful, Mr Pitts believes it could stretch to billions of dollars.
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