British jailed for 10 years for selling fake bomb detectors

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A British businessman was on Thursday sentenced to 10 years in jail for selling fake bomb detectors to the Iraqi government and other countries, by a judge who told him he had blood on his hands.

James McCormick made an estimated £50 million ($76 million, 59 million euros) from selling the devices, which prosecutors said were based on a novelty golf ball finder and did not work.

Last week, a jury at the Old Bailey court in London found the 57-year-old guilty of three counts of fraud.

Passing sentence at England’s central criminal court on Thursday, judge Richard Hone said McCormick had perpetrated a “callous confidence trick” that likely cost lives -- an estimation shared by former British military officials in Iraq.

“I am wholly satisfied that your fraudulent conduct in selling so many useless devices for simply enormous profit promoted a false sense of security and in all probability materially contributed to causing death and injury to innocent individuals,” Hone said.

He said McCormick had shown a “cavalier disregard of the potentially fatal consequences” of his actions.

“What you perpetrated was a callous confidence trick,” the judge told the businessman.

“The device was useless, the profit outrageous and your culpability as a fraudster has to be placed in the highest category.

“Your profits were obscene. You have neither insight, shame or any sense of remorse.”

The Advanced Selection Equipment devices were marketed to governments and security organizations in glossy brochures which claimed they could find explosives, drugs, ivory and even people.

McCormick, from Somerset in southwest England, is believed to have made around £37 million from sales to Iraq alone, where he sold 6,000 detectors.

The businessman told the court he had also sold detectors to the Egyptian army, Kenyan police, Hong Kong’s prison service and Thai border control.

Other customers included Georgia, Niger, Belgium and United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon.

McCormick said one of his devices had been used to check a hotel in Romania before the visit of a U.S. president in the 1990s, and insisted: “I never had any negative results from customers.”

However, the prosecutor told the jury that McCormick had based his designs on 300 “Golfinder” novelty machines that he bought from the United States between 2005 and 2006.

Colour-coded “sensor cards” -- orange for explosives, blue for drugs and red for humans -- were slotted into the machines to make them “work”.

Prosecutors said that former senior British officers in Iraq believed the fake devices had cost lives.

“The inescapable conclusion is that devices have been detonated after passing through checkpoints. Iraqi civilians have died as a result,” said Brigadier Simon Marriner in a statement.

However, McCormick’s lawyers said other devices had also been used at checkpoints and there was no proof that his client’s detectors had resulted in deaths.

Police said they were now focused on tracking down the businessman’s assets so they could seize them.