UK arms dealers accused of selling to blacklisted countries

Government launches investigation into alleged sale of ex-Soviet weapons to "undesirable locations"

The government has launched an investigation into a series of UK arms dealers following allegations that old Soviet weapons have been sold to blacklisted countries.

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has asked MPs not to release the list of companies apparently involved in order to avoid jeopardising the investigation.

He made his request after senior MPs on a Commons select committee were given a document by Oleksandr Gorin, the deputy foreign minister of the former Soviet republic of Ukraine.

According to the report by the cross-party group of MPs, published today, the document contained a list of UK registered arms brokers to whom the Ukraine had licensed the export of weapons from the Soviet stockpile.

These weapons are believed to include AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles.

When the MPs informed the Foreign Office, Miliband responded to say that HM Revenue and Customs and the Export Control Organisation were investigating the companies listed in the document.

Miliband said: "From our perspective it would be preferable if the [committee] did not at this point make public the details contained in the list as it would alert the companies to the fact that we are investigating and might lead those who have committed an offence to try to cover their tracks."

The report published today is critical of the fact that the Foreign Office was oblivious to these sales. It says: "We are extremely concerned that the UK embassy in Kiev, the Export Control Organisation and HM Revenue & Customs were all unaware of the existence of this list of UK brokers who had been granted export licences...

"We recommend that, in major arms exporting countries such as Ukraine, the FCO should ensure that its embassies and diplomatic posts engage more effectively with the national export control organisations to obtain information on UK arms brokers licensed by overseas states."

The government confirmed earlier this year that weapons used by Israel in the Gaza conflict were highly likely to contain British-made components. The committee said this was regrettable, and called for closer scrutiny of British arms exports.

Concerns were also raised that British military equipment may have been used against civilians during hostilities in Sri Lanka in 2006.