British finance ministry plans to close arms sales department: report

LONDON, July 9, 2007 (AFP) – The British finance ministry wants to shut down the government arms sales department, the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO), The Guardian reported on Monday. Citing unnamed political sources, the daily said that former Treasury minister Stephen Timms had ordered a review of DESO because of criticisms that it helped subsidise major weapons manufacturers such as BAE Systems, and it had gained too much power within the government.

The Guardian said that leaked documents it had seen showed that Timms had ordered the review in March, and told Defence Secretary Des Browne before he left his post that “he was not convinced of DESO’s justification.”

According to the paper, the Treasury review said that Britain’s reputation was being damaged by “promoting arms exports to countries with severe developmental shortcomings and/or human rights concerns.”

DESO was set up in 1966 and spends about 15 million pounds (22 million euros, 30 million dollars) a year helping British arms companies sell equipment abroad by organising arms fairs and marketing campaigns, services for which arms firms pay a discounted fee.

The report comes after a controversial invest