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Illegal arms dealing

The restrictions on trading in weapons and other military equipment are extensive.

They have been further extended as international treaty obligations have changed. Political attention has been drawn to the need to strengthen controls for national security or international reputation.

Restrictions are intended to prevent the United Kingdom from being implicated in torture, the suppression of minorities and other human rights abuses. It also aims to fight the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, warfare and terrorism.

Unlicensed arms dealing is a criminal offence. Licences are required not just for imports and exports of relevant goods from the UK, but also trades:

  • brokered or arranged from the UK
  • between other countries; and
  • carried out by UK citizens and companies while abroad.

Licences are required to trade in all goods on the military list.

Military list

The list does not just contain weapons but many dual use items. These include (but are not limited to):

  • guns, mortars, bombs and ammunition;
  • chemical and biological weapons, riot control agents and radioactive materials and equipment;
  • electronic equipment or software used for the control or jamming weapons or military equipment;
  • off road vehicles adapted for military use, and vehicles designed or adapted for riot control;
  • military ships and aircraft;
  • body armour, night vision goggles and similar equipment;
  • leg irons, manacles, electric shock devices and other items for use in torture or population control;
  • cryogenic and superconductive equipment;
  • part finished goods, or equipment for the manufacture of goods on the list;
  • specialised equipment for military training or simulations.

Trade which is in violation of current sanctions against jurisdictions or individuals is also a criminal offence.

Unlicensed arms dealing and trade in violation of sanction requirements results in the acquisition of criminal proceeds. For this reason, it comes within the anti-money laundering regime.


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