Documentary - The Arms Drop

The Arms Drop

Steve Taylor-Bryant continues his Raindance Film Festival 2015 coverage with the documentary from award winning film makers Andreas Koefoed and Tobias Lindholm, The Arms Drop…

Indian journalist Udayan Namboodiri describes the Purulia Arms Drop as “One of the biggest intelligence failures in the history of India.” And the failure doesn’t just belong to Indian Intelligence. In 1995 ex-serviceman turned Defence specialist Peter Bleach was approached by a Danish man known as Kim Paulgrave Davy, who in actual fact was the radical idealist Niels Holck. Holck wanted weapons and a plane to drop them in West Bengal, an Indian State under extreme communist rule. Peter Bleach thought this was an illegal act and contacted the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Export Services Organisation who sent MI-5 and Special Branch officers to see Bleach. The government agencies contacted India who wanted the plane to make the drop in India so they could arrest Niels and his cohorts and try them in India. Bleach was given government permission to continue the negotiations with Niels and eventually joined Niels on the plane as they flew from Sofia, Bulgaria across to Indian airspace to make the drop.

The strange thing was that at none of the expected points along the journey were Bleach or Niels stopped by authorities as Bleach had been led to believe they would be and the drop went ahead, with one huge problem. Bleach was using a Russian flight crew and they are the only nation in the world that fly on the metric system so when they were supposed to be at 3000 feet they were actually off course and at 3000 meters, meaning the weapons dropped in the wrong place and the media in India went haywire. Niels and the team were Phuket went the news broke and their first instinct was to run. Bleach though still wanted the authorities to arrest the men and convinced them that flying back via India was the best way to avoid suspicion. No arrest came in Madras, again against the expectations of Bleach, and the plane was eventually requested to land in Bombay where it was met by Indian Customs Officials. Niels flees the scene leaving Bleach and the Russians accused of smuggling a Danish citizen into India and they are arrested.

Bleach comes clean about the entire operation and is very surprised when the British wash their hands of him, denying any knowledge of who he is and what the operation was about. This leaves Bleach on trial in India, followed by a conviction and a life sentence in an Indian jail. During his trial it was shown that Special Branch officer Stephen Alcock had fabricated evidence, and six of the prosecution witnesses were convicted of perjury, but the conviction stood and Bleach was branded worldwide as a terrorist, whilst Niels went into hiding in his native Denmark eventually raising a family. Vladimir Putin visited India as the Indian air force wanted to purchase some Russian Bombers that were capable of dropping a nuclear payload but Putin refused to sign any agreement whilst his countrymen were still in jail, so Bleach was left to rot as the Russian crew were freed. Eventually Bleach’s relentless media campaign and British politician’s pressure made life difficult for Indian authorities and they freed in him 2004 where he returned to the United Kingdom to become an hotelier in Scarborough. This wasn’t enough for Bleach though who wanted answers as to why he was left to be a patsy, and Niels was now facing extradition to India where horrific torture was a huge possibility. Bleach tracked down the Interpol officer that had written a report containing evidence of Bleach’s innocence but it was classified, and Special Branch officer Alcock had disappeared. Eventually, after Bleach testified about the conditions in an Indian prison, Niels extradition was refused by a Danish Court.

Denmark and India are still negotiating the terms of any possible trial for Niels, who has said he would be happy to stand trial if all the evidence including the help he had from Indian politicians and Indian Intelligence to escape back to Denmark comes to light. As of this day Interpol still has the evidence marked as classified.

I am always wary of the press packages that surround films. Whether I receive them from a huge studio or from the film maker themselves, they tend to be overly ambitious in their praise for their own projects. The press package for The Arms Deal stated that this tale of espionage and conspiracy would make for a superb Hollywood film. For once I have to agree with the PR. This is conspiratorial in the extreme, this is a Cold War-esque espionage thriller, and it really would play nicely as a film as I don’t think you could write this story if you tried. The power of the documentary, though, is in its ability to let every side have their say and state their facts without the film makers own political motivations skewing the story. The characters are real people, the news footage is genuine footage and, as a viewer, just being the facts in this way allows me to make my own mind up as to whether the actions of those concerned require judgement or not. Bleach, for his part, starts off trying to do the right thing and is abandoned by his own nation, returning slightly broken by his experience and only really wanting answers. The Indians are shown to be embarrassed by their own intelligence failures and the common torture practices shown don’t leave the country looking good. Niels Holck himself I found strange. Whether his aim at the start, of helping freedoms fighters, was right or wrong is up to your own moral compass to decide but, once the proverbial hit the fan, he did a runner showing a level of cowardice and to this day hasn’t spent one day in jail for his part in the criminality that took place. On the other hand, I found I had sympathy for a family man that just wanted to fight extradition to the barbarous treatment he would inevitability find.

Powerful character insights, superb use of footage and a fascinating event. This is a top documentary and you really must watch it if you want a spy thriller type film that actually happened or are just a fan of incredible documentaries.

Image - Raindance.