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Shock over 'fake' bomb detectors

HUNDREDS of businesses across the world, including security agencies in Bahrain, have been conned into buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of "fake" bomb detectors, which were in fact novelty golf ball finders.

British businessman James McCormick has made an estimated $75 million by selling the devices, originally worth just $20, for up to $40,000 each.

The 57-year-old former policeman was convicted of fraud by a jury at the Old Bailey court in London on Tuesday and faces up to eight years in prison. He is due to be sentenced on May 2.

He has reportedly made most of his profits from Iraq, where the devices were installed at checkpoints in Baghdad to detect car bombs and suicide bombers that kill hundreds of civilians.

He sold the gear through his company, ATSC UK, and tricked organisations in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Syria, Mexico, Thailand, Egypt, Libya, Kenya and Hong Kong. He has also been accused of selling the equipment to a United Nations agency.

The company claimed the devices could "detect" explosives and narcotics at long range, deep underground, through lead-lined rooms and multiple buildings.

However, they were not connected to anything and did not have any power source.

The GDN uncovered that the product, called ADE 651, was sold to security agencies and businesses in Bahrain, including the Mšvenpick Hotel.

Sources said the hotel paid thousands of dinars for a state-of-the-art detection equipment, which did not work.

"The equipment was purchased last year as part of security measures, but it never worked," they said.

"Experts were contacted, who checked the bomb detector and said it was fake."

The hotel's head of security Abdulah Ameeri testified in the London court against Mr McCormick, who said he was given the device to detect explosives in cars at the property.

He explained to the court that he tested the equipment on a firecracker, but said: "It wasn't working. It wasn't working at all" - he was quoted in the London Evening Standard newspaper.

Meanwhile, the Guardian quoted Detective Inspector Ed Heath, who led Avon and Somerset police's three-year investigation into Mr McCormick, as saying both civilians and armed forces were put at "significant" risk in relying upon this equipment.

"McCormick showed a complete disregard for the safety of those that used and relied upon the device for their own security and protection. He amassed many millions of pounds through his greed and criminal enterprise," he told the court.

Mr McCormick marketed his devices at international fairs and sold about 6,000 detectors to Iraq for as much as £10,000 each while the production cost for the device was as low as £15.

His case was brought to light by an Iraqi whistleblower who alleged Mr McCormick paid millions of pounds in bribes to senior Iraqi officials to secure the deals.

The businessman's home in Somerset was raided by police in December 2007, when British army officers deployed in Baghdad and Basra reported serious concerns about the effectiveness of the devices.

Police found that Mr McCormick owned a mansion in Bath, that was previously owned by Hollywood actor Nicholas Cage, a holiday home in Cyprus and a private yacht.

Mr McCormick had told the court he did not receive any negative reports of the devices from customers and no one has asked for refund. sandy@gdn.com.bh

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