The Secretary of State for Scotland invested in a defence firm making weapon sights which applied for military export licenses to nations accused of human rights abuses such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel.
Alister Jack, a Tory MP recently appointed by Boris Johnson, registered £70,000 worth of shareholdings two years ago in a private equity group called Privet Capital Pyser LP.
The investment firm owned a company called Pyser-SGI Group Ltd, aka Pyser Optics, which made weapon sights for armies, police and special forces until it went into administration in April.
Jack’s involvement with the firm ended on 10 April 2019. But ahead of a controversial arms fair in London this week called DSEI 2019, critics have questioned his investment and expressed concern over close links between the Tory Party and the arms industry.
Jack defended his shareholding, however, pointing out it was declared in 2017 while stressing he has never been associated with any “illegal or inappropriate activity”.
Jack is the MP for Dumfries and Galloway who replaced David Mundell after he was sacked by Prime Minister Johnson. In June 2017 he declared shares in Privet Capital Pyser LP.
Jack was a partner in Privet Capital Pyser LP when it bought Pyser-SGI Group Ltd in September 2015.
The English-based firm applied for military export licences to Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Israel, Qatar, Turkey and Oman, among 64 nations.
Pyser-SGI attended 17 arms fairs, according to Campaign Against Arms Trade.
One reason that human rights abusers and dictatorships are able to maintain their repressive rule is because of the military equipment and support that they are able to buy from arms companies. Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “One reason that human rights abusers and dictatorships are able to maintain their repressive rule is because of the military equipment and support that they are able to buy from arms companies. These revelations raise questions for Alistair Jack, and we hope that he hasn’t profited from sales to these regimes.”
Ross Greer, Scottish Green MSP said: “Serious questions should be asked about whether Alister Jack continues to have any ties with distributors of weapons technology.”
Ian Pocock, a spokesman for Stop the Arms Fair, said: “DSEI is a disgraceful and immoral event where arms companies and military delegations from regimes with appalling human rights records will schmooze and do deals.
“It is staggering that the government has seen fit to invite so many repressive regimes to shop for weapons under one roof. DSEI should be shut its doors and be closed down for good.”
Any suggestion that Mr Jack has ever been associated with any illegal or inappropriate activity is categorically untrue Spokesperson for Alistair Jack
In response, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State for Scotland said: “All of Mr Jack’s financial interests are fully declared, according to the rules designed to ensure transparency. That included his investment in a UK company, no longer trading, which manufactured optical equipment. Any suggestion that Mr Jack has ever been associated with any illegal or inappropriate activity is categorically untrue.
“DSEI is an important opportunity for UK companies to promote their legitimate defence exports to overseas markets. The UK Government’s Ministry of Defence, Foreign Office and Department for International Trade are closely involved in the event.
“The UK’s defence industry, including shipbuilding on the Clyde, is worth £1.69 billion to Scotland’s economy and supports 10,000 Scottish jobs. As well as its economic impact it supports our armed forces help keep our country safe. We should be proud of that.”
Privet Capital’s website lists a company called Pyser Optics as one of its past investments but the firm declined to comment.
A spokesman for a new firm called RPA Pyser Optics Limited – which has the same address in Kent as the now defunct Pyser-SGI Group Limited – said the company had been purchased by another firm after going into administration in April and was now under new ownership. RPA Pyser Optics is due to attend DSEI 2019 this week.
Jack has no involvement with RPA Pyser Optics Limited or any similarly named companies.
Regarding military export licences, the UK Government says it takes its export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most “robust export control regimes in the world”.
Last month The Ferret revealed that arms firms due to attend a DSEI 2019 – dubbed a “festival of violence” – gave MPs more than £60,000 in donations, prompting concerns over the privileged access multinationals have at Westminster.
We also reported that at least 27 members of the House of Lords received free dinners and breakfasts, courtesy of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Armed Forces which get funding from arms firms.
At least 13 Lords have shareholdings in DSEI companies while 10 have directorships or employment, and senior officials at the Ministry of Defence enjoyed at least 163 hospitality meetings with arms companies in the last quarter of 2018 – a significant rise from 45 during the same period in 2017.
Officials were treated to dinner, lunches, drinks, Christmas concerts, rugby games and overnight stays, from arms firms such as Leonardo, Raytheon, Thales, and MBDA which makes Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles used in Yemen’s war.
Photo thanks to Chris McAndrew, CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped).