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BP sacks security chief over arms deal. Inquiry into arms and spy scandal. By Michael Gillard, Ignacio Gomez and Melissa Jones. Saturday October 17, 1998
British Petroleum has sacked a top security officer and launched an internal inquiry after an investigation into the oil company's involvement in an arms deal and spying operation.
The allegations relate to the protection of the Ocensa oil pipeline in Colombia in which BP is a major shareholder.
The news breaks as multinationals sit down with campaigners in London today to discuss business ethics at Amnesty International's human rights festival and three days before the foreign minister Tony Lloyd flies to Colombia for talks with the new government on human rights and investment.
The investigation has been carried out jointly by the Guardian and
the Colombian newspaper El Espectador. Confidential documents in the
Guardian's possession reveal that:
- Ocensa bought and supplied military equipment to a Colombian army brigade protecting its pipeline that has been implicated in two massacres by rightwing death squads under its control during the civil war. Talks on the arms deal began soon after one well-publicised massacre of 14 people, including women and children.
- The chief security officer for BP and Ocensa discussed arming the brigade with attack helicopters and guns.
- Ocensa security, run by the British-based security company Defence Systems Limited (DSL), proposed setting up a "psychological warfare" training course for internal security staff made up of former Colombian army officers.
- DSL and its ex-SAS soldiers were brought to Colombia by BP to protect its £25 billion oil fields in the east and the 500-mile Ocensa pipeline that carries the crude oil to the Caribbean coast for export to the United States.
Oil installations in Colombia are a military target for leftwing guerrillas, and BP receives protection from the Colombian military. But in the past two years British non-governmental organisations have repeatedly raised concerns with BP about its secret protection agreements with Colombian security forces - among the world's worst human rights abusers - and with international corporate mercenaries.
Our investigation also reveals that:
- While these talks were taking place Ocensa security ran a well-financed spying operation in the local community using paid informants, according to a former security official. The information was passed to counter-guerrilla brigades protecting the pipeline.
- DSL employs a former Colombian army officer, Major General Herman Guzman Rodriguez, whose name appears in the Black Book of Colombian State Terrorism compiled by international human rights lawyers. The book says there is "abundant evidence and testimony" linking Gen Guzman Rodriguez to a paramilitary group responsible for 149 murders in 1987 90.
He denies the allegations, which have never been investigated.
Ocensa and BP have subsequently sacked their security chief, Roger Brown, and asked DSL to conduct an internal inquiry while they investigate who authorised what at management level.
Both Mr Brown, a former British army officer, and DSL refused to comment.
Mr Lloyd, whose official visit to Colombia begins on Wednesday, visited BP's Colombian operation last year and has already discussed earlier human rights allegations with senior executives.
A Foreign Office spokesman said the Government expects BP to conduct overseas operations ethically but cannot force it to do so.
BP has five seats on as many influential government task forces, and its former chairman Lord Simon is now a trade minister.
BP's own published code of conduct commits everyone working for the company to ethical conduct and support for the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.
But Susan Lee, an Amnesty International researcher who has monitored BP's Colombian operation for two years, said it was difficult to imagine legitimate reasons for sending security staff on psychological warfare training.
Describing BP's and DSL's screening procedures for security staff as "inadequate", she said: "It is vital to ensure that military personnel implicated in serious human rights violations are not recruited to positions in the private sector from where they can continue practices which put at risk the lives of innocent civilians."
BP has now agreed to consult human rights organisations about future security appointments.
But today's revelations threaten to derail BP's talks with Oxfam, Save the Children and other NGOs. The development agencies said in a statement: "We are disturbed by recent evidence that suggests that BP's security arrangements in Colombia may be compromising its stated commitment to improving community relations."
BP is in its worst public relations crisis since the Rhodesian sanctions-busting scandal in the 1970s. Lord Howe was appointed last year as a paid consultant to handle the social and ethical implications of BP's foreign operations. He would not comment.
Last year the Guardian revealed that DSL had written a proposal for BP to create "intelligence cells" of local informants around the oil fields.
DSL are under government investigation in Colombia after the Guardian's disclosure last year that former SAS employees were secretly training the Colombian police in counter-insurgency tactics on BP oil rigs. BP says the training was defensive.