Some of the main characters
17 December 1995: Illegal Arms Supply to India
The Purilia Arms Drop was an illegal transfer of arms to an unknown group in West Bengal, India. Central characters in the deal included Peter Haestrup.
He surfaced again in 2013 when, together with Tory, Richard Cook and the late, 83yo, Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz, former head of the Saudi Arabian intelligence agency, he co-founded another company called Five Star Investment Management Ltd.
The company was registered at Cook’s Glasgow address. The firm filed no accounts with Companies House, and was dissolved in December 2014.
This explanation of events is complicated by many intrigues but the article need to be read in its entirety to be sure of a clear understanding of recent actions and activities of Richard Cook, former vice chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland.
Peter Bleach not looking so good
The Purilia Arms Drop Part 1:
Peter Bleach under arrest
The bizarre case of the British gun-runner, Indian rebels and a missing Dane – Part 2
The English Arms Dealer Peter Bleach version of events. (given 15 Years Later)
The date was 17 December 1995. Three months earlier, the freelance Yorkshire-based arms dealer had been approached about providing a Danish customer with a large quantity of arms and ammunition.
When he discovered that they were wanted not by a state army but by a terrorist group, he informed the British authorities – who told him to carry on.
He did so, believing he was playing a role in an anti-terrorist sting operation: he fully expected that, before the arms could be delivered, the Indian authorities would bring the operation grinding to a halt, and he would be rescued.
But there had been no intervention and as the Russian Antonov cargo aeroplane plane, laden with a large quantity of arms and ammunition lumbered up into the night sky from Varanasi airport he started to worry thinking that the Indian government might have decided to shoot the plane down and have done with it.
At any minute he expected there to be a flash and the end of the mission. But nothing happened. After 20 minutes the plane peeled away from the major air route linking Varanasi with Calcutta and destinations to the east, and headed for the town of Purulia in West Bengal.
The plane dropped through the night sky to what the crew believed was the right altitude, then they opened the rear-hatch and shoved the loaded pallets towards it.
As the arms and munitions 2,500 AK-47 weapons and 1,500,000 rounds of ammunition) plummeted down and the parachutes bellied out the crew heaved a huge sigh of relief that all had gone to plan.
For Bleach, his nightmare, it appeared, was over. But, it was just about to begin.
Within 10 days, he and the crew of the plane were bound by the arms and legs, flown to Calcutta, locked in the city’s notorious jail, and charged with the most serious offence in the Indian statute book, waging war on the Indian state, which carried the death penalty.
Bleach and the Latvian Crew awaiting trial
Trial and Sentence
The Purulia arms drop, as the operation became known, was then the subject of a “closed door” two-year trial at the end of which Bleach and the crew, five ethnic Russians from Latvia, were convicted and jailed for life.
Years later, all six were freed after pressure from the Russian and British governments.
The case closed with the mystery of who the arms were intended for still intact.
The man at the heart of the operation, a Dane, who went by the name of Kim Davy and who had been spirited away before Bleach and the crew were arrested, had been living in Copenhagen for the last 15 years.
The Indian government gave up trying to extradite him to stand trial and the puzzling mysteries surrounding the incident may never be known.
Bleach on his way to court
MI5 Involvement Confirmed
Peter Bleach never appeared in court in public but, in his defence in court he stated that the British Secret Service (MI5) had been fully aware of his involvement in the arms sale and he had written confirmation of this from MI5 confirming it had informed the Indian government of the sale of arms.
His handler was named as: “David Shaylor”. Another MI5 officer named “Steven Elcock was also proven to have perjured himself in court.
It was alleged that Kim Davy did not escape but had been spirited away by an Indian Diplomat in his car.
The Senior police officer concerned, J. K. Dutt, Joint Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) (who would subsequently conduct a probe into the arms drops case) arranged for the transport by train of Kim Davy, from Delhi to a train station not far from the border with Nepa.
From there he was taken, by car to a bus depot on the Nepali side from where he escaped back to Denmark. Dutt denied, in court having received a 30 page debriefing report from Bleach.
Pereira, Nair and Mukkophadhyaya were named as additional members of the smuggling team. There was evidence Nair had gone to Latvia to threaten the Latvian crew against giving media interviews.
It was confirmed radar tracking of air movements had been “switched off” at the time of the munitions drop
Six Senior Indian Police officers retracted their Statements.
It was confirmed that Bleach had been working with the British Government, but not employed by it.
He was well cared for in the Indian prison, courtesy of British Deputy High Commissioner, including food sent from star hotels.
In his final statement Bleach surmised the then Congress government under P.V. Narasimha Rao wanted to destabilize the West Bengal Communist Government and that one or couple of politicians and bureaucrats from India and Britain had been involved in the operation.
Letter produced in court
Bleach – Arms dealer or MI5 Agent?
Peter Bleach’s professional life was a useful preparation for the situation he found himself in the thick of in the skies above Varanasi.
He had served in British military intelligence in Belfast during the Troubles, fought for Ian Smith’s white supremacists in Rhodesia and worked as a private eye in Britain before moving into the arms trade.
Now 59 and still sleek and erect despite eight years in Calcutta’s jail, where he contracted TB and at one point nearly starved, he seems a throwback to an earlier sort of Englishman: James Bond, Raffles, John Le Carré’s Honourable Schoolboy. Kipling would have known the type.
He worked as a private eye for years, but when spying went sour on him after one sleazy divorce case too many, he drifted into the arms trade.
He specialised in small-scale orders – a couple of Polish helicopters or 50,000 yards of camouflage material – for governments in the developing world.
So when a German business acquaintance rang him one day and told him about a Danish contact who was looking for a supply of AK-47s, it promised to be nothing out of the ordinary.
Bleach flew to Copenhagen to meet him – “You do want to get an eyeball of the people you are doing business with” – and present his quote for the guns.
But he was in for a surprise. Kalashnikovs are used by state armies all over the developing world, and the quote he had prepared covered their delivery to a bonded warehouse in Calcutta.
But his customer, who introduced himself as Kim Davy, said he wanted the delivery made not to Calcutta, but to a remote spot near the western border of West Bengal called Purulia. He produced a map of India and put his finger on it.
For Bleach, there could be only one explanation: the arms were required not by a government but by a terrorist group. “I was a bit taken aback,” he says. He pointed out that it was illegal, and would therefore cost a lot more. “So he said, ‘Can you give us a fresh quote?’ and I said, ‘It’ll take a lot of doing, I’ll need some time to do it.’
They shook hands on that, Bleach returned to the UK. He telephoned the Ministry of Defence as soon as he touched down. And that,” he adds with a bitter laugh, “is where it all went wrong.”
Informing the authorities of what you are up to is second nature for a British arms dealer, Bleach explains. “In those days there was an organisation called the Defence Export Services Organisation (Deso), which had offices in London’s Soho Square, a division of the Ministry of Defence.”
In a business as sensitive as arms dealing, Deso’s supervision “was a good system: you fed everything back to them, they weren’t bothered about what you were doing so long as it wasn’t exactly illegal, and they got a very good picture of who was buying what and what was going on around the world.
Hoch & Bleach the early years
So my only objective was to go back to the UK and telephone Deso and ask them what they wanted me to do – simple as that. Guess what? The British Government does occasionally support terrorist groups and things like that.
“I gave them all the information and they said carry on, don’t let on that you’ve told us anything. Play them along until we tell you otherwise.
“They came back to me some time later and said, ‘We’ve had discussions with the Indian government and they want the deal to go ahead, but we don’t want you to sell the guns.” That was because letters of credit would be traceable to Bleach, “and then they would have to let on that it was me who had told them about the deal, and that would compromise my situation.”
Instead, it was arranged that Bleach would find Davy a different source for the guns, while he himself would arrange to buy the aircraft to deliver them.
“Special Branch told me that the only way for the group behind the arms drop to be identified was for the guns to be delivered, and then [the Indian authorities would] arrest everybody when the delivery happened.”
Thus Bleach found himself caught up in an international sting operation, with four tons of weapons as the bait. “As I was going down the spider’s leg to get on the plane at Gatwick, right at the door of the aircraft there was a guy in a suit who said, ‘How long will you be away, Mr Bleach?’ I said, ‘Not very long at all.’ ‘Have a good flight,’ he said.”
It was December 1995 and Bleach expected to be back within days – in time for a North Yorks Christmas. His plan was to obtain an airworthiness certificate for the decrepit Russian plane sitting on the airfield at Burgas, Bulgaria, stuffed with 77 cases of weapons labelled “Technical Equipment”, bid his customer a fond goodbye then come home. But Davy refused to let him go.
He said, “You know too much, I want you to come with me. I don’t want you out of my sight until this is done and dusted. You won’t be out of pocket, I’ll give you first-class accommodation, you can fly back by whatever route you like, it will be worth your while, but I don’t want you to leave.”
Again, Bleach felt cornered. But he was confident that the British authorities would be keeping a protective eye on him. “I knew that the Brits knew exactly where I was, they were tracking my route, and if I didn’t use my return ticket in a day or so they would be aware of the fact – so I assumed that everything was all right.”
After nearly crashing at Isfahan in Iran, they landed at Karachi in Pakistan. The plane was on the Tarmac for days, but nobody at the airport showed any interest in its contents.
To Bleach’s dismay, an Indian friend of Davy showed up with a consignment of cargo parachutes – Bleach had been comforting himself with the thought that the lack of parachutes would prevent the drop from going ahead. The next stop was to be the holy Hindu city of Varanasi.
“We took off from Karachi,” Bleach recalls, “and the crew had no idea that they were carrying arms and ammunition, none whatsoever. But you’ve got to tell them some time!
As soon as we were clear of Karachi airspace, Davy and his Indian friend started breaking open the boxes so they could load the guns on to pallets, revealing rack after rack of gleaming, brand-new, high quality Bulgarian AK47s.
“One of the Latvians was making tea at the time in the little kitchenette – his eyes just got wider and wider and his jaw dropped and he turned round and went to talk to the pilot.
The pilot came to look, then Davy went forward to the cockpit. I’ve no idea what passed between them but somehow, with a combination of threats and extra money, he succeeded in pacifying them.”
They landed at Varanasi to refuel and feverishly continued to break open boxes and attach the contents to pallets.
Bleach joined in, though expecting at any moment that Indian special forces would storm the plane and arrest them all.
To defend himself in case of a firefight, he quietly pocketed one of the Makarov pistols. Then the plane took off, and Bleach waited for it to be blasted out of the sky.
Profile of Kim Davy (Holck) – the Arms Dealer
Crammed into the Antonov’s rugged interior with Bleach was the 24-year-old Dane he knew as Kim Davy. Like Bleach, he seems to have stepped from the pages of a novel.
Davy, whose real name is Niels Holck, was short and skinny. His bony face, high cheekbones and Marty Feldman eyes gave him an anxious, intellectual look, enhanced by oversize spectacles.
His voice was mild and educated, and what had brought him to this spot high above the Ganges flood plain was, (if his unimpeachable Scandinavian motives were to be believed,) : the urge to help some of the poorest people in the Indian subcontinent to help themselves.
Ananda Nagar, the utopian community far below them in West Bengal, “an ideal community” as it describes itself, “completely self-sufficient and progressing harmoniously in all spheres of life”, was in deep trouble: it had been under murderous assault by thugs loyal to the communist government of West Bengal, which resented the community’s independence.
And that, according to Holck, is why he had decided to help them, by giving them the means to defend themselves.
The flight had been financed by a lucrative gold-smuggling business he had been conducting from China.
It was not a matter of showering the commune with a few pea-shooters. The consignment consisted of 77 cases of Kalashnikov rifles, Makarov pistols, sniper rifles, anti-tank grenades, RPG rocket-launchers, anti-personnel mines, night-vision binoculars and 25,000 rounds of rifle ammunition: enough kit to start a small war, far more than a supposedly religious group would require for self-defence.
The drop might never have come to public attention if it had landed on the intended spot. But the pallet-loading took so long that the plane finally left Varanasi long after dark, when the landmarks, three hills close together, were no longer visible.
And the pilot misunderstood his instructions, unleashing his load not at 300ft but 300 metres, with the result that the parachutes came swirling down in the middle of a village, to the consternation of the inhabitants.
The plane went on to land in the Thai resort of Phuket. It was only when he turned on the television in his hotel room the next morning that Bleach discovered that their consignment had landed miles off target.
It was the lead story on BBC World News. “These villagers in India had found the area around their village carpeted with AK-47s,” he remembers.
Bleach found himself up to his neck in a major terrorist incident gone wildly awry. “I sat in my Phuket hotel room, thinking, ‘What the hell do I do now?'”
Holck proposed sending Bleach and the crew back home directly from Phuket without touching India. But Bleach, who clung to the idea that he was still under the protection of the British authorities, insisted that they complete their flight plan by returning to Europe in their Antonov via India.
But Bleach was, in fact, under the protection of nobody, and all but the Dane were arrested at Bombay airport.
Davy was the lucky man in the Purulia saga, having skipped out of Bombay and back to Europe before he could be identified.
But today, the boot is on the other foot. “I may have had an unpleasant few years,” says Bleach, “but these days I can go anywhere I want in the world, with the possible exception of India. But Niels Holck dare not leave Denmark.”
Kim Davy (Holck) – The Early years
Holck first became famous in Denmark after committing a series of bank robberies – one of them in the bank where his mother worked – when barely out of his teens.
After escaping from a courtroom without his shoes he became known as the “barefoot robber”.
Interviewed by Skype, from Copenhagen he painted a glowing picture of himself as a humanitarian who was fired by anger at state brutality inflicted on some of the poorest people in India.
He said: “In the early 1990s I was involved in a comprehensive development project in Purulia run by Ananda Marga.”
Ananda Marga, “Path of Bliss”, the group behind the Ananda Nagar community, was founded in Bihar in 1955 by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, an Indian Railways accountant and teacher of Tantric yoga.
It describes itself as an organisation of sannyasin – monks and nuns – who dedicate their lives to meditation and social service. Like other modern Indian spiritual schools, it has spread across the world, with communities from Utah to Copenhagen.
What marks it out from the rest is its readiness to fight back against state power.
Holck spent 13 years working as a volunteer with different eco-sustainable projects around the world.
He said: “I was inspired by Ananda Marga’s work among some of the poorest of the poor in India, where they were building a community with sustainable energy resources, promoting cottage industries with the help of micro-loans and so on. It was a big inspiration for me.”
But a bitter feud was under way between the Ananda Nagar community and the communist state government of West Bengal, which sent its thugs to level the hospital, attack the monks and nuns, and destroy the community’s agricultural projects.
Holck said: “in 1990 to 1991, I made contact with an ex-US marine and we created a 30-man squad of guards, patrolling this huge area which contained 40 villages. We trained them in unarmed combat.
Then in 1991, four guards and an agricultural specialist they were escorting back from the fields to a village were murdered by the West Bengal police.
The attacks continued until an Indian politician requested me to bring in enough weapons to arm the guards and the tribal people in the area.
When I raised the question of safety, he said, ‘Don’t worry about the Indian side of things.’ It was thanks to him that our plane was not inspected at Varanasi, and that the radar was turned off on the night of the arms drop.”
A humanitarian activist Holck makes claim to be, but is a highly unconventional one.
While apparently a sincere and committed member of the peaceful Ananda Marga. he admitted he financed his voluntary work by buying gold in China and arranging for it to be smuggled into India, where it could be sold for a much higher price.
He was also involved in smuggling gold, gems and Rolex watches out of South Africa, and gold-smuggling and even gold-mining in southern Sudan. There is so much that is unknown about Holck.
The Ananda Marga community has consistently denied any involvement in the plot, and few people familiar with the case believe Holck’s claim that it was the intended destination.
So who were the arms really meant for? Some claim that they were intended for Bangladeshi insurgents to attack the Bangladesh army. Another possibility is that they were meant for Maoist militants, to enable them to destabilise West Bengal’s communist government in the run-up to the general election of 1996.
Whatever the true destination, Holck is not the central figure in the story, despite his exotic CV.
“His was not the main conspiracy in this affair,” says Bleach. “Like me, he was a pawn.
A lot of people close to the summit of Indian government and intelligence would have to have signed off on the arms-drop plan for it to go ahead.” This may explain why India was in no hurry to extradite Holck before – and also why, according to both Holck and Bleach, the enigmatic Dane will be in grave peril if the extradition goes through.
“Personally, I don’t want Holck anywhere near India and that kind of risk. In an ideal world, I want him standing before a Danish judge, telling his entire story on oath.”
Bleach, who on his return to England got a job helping look after a castle in his native Yorkshire, knows what it feels like to be a pawn – then to be discarded and disowned. “The Special Branch knew everything about the drop at least three months beforehand,” he says, with a trace of bitterness. “They knew its flight plan, they knew it had to land at Varanasi. But when I got to court, suddenly nobody had even heard of me.
They started off telling the court I was a suspect in one of their investigations. They tried very hard to pretend I hadn’t told them all about this in advance. It took me two days of cross-examination to break the guy. He finally admitted that he was sent out by MI5…
“The crew and I were shocked when we discovered that we were to be charged with an offence that carried the death penalty. We didn’t know that at the time. It’s one thing to say, ‘You’re on your own mate.’ But they lied – and the only reason to lie was to try to get me hanged. And I thought that was carrying things a little bit far.”