On the slippery trail of military deals

Saracen trainers in Somalia. Pic: Supplied

Saracen trainers in Somalia. Pic: Supplied

Published Feb 26, 2012


The paper trail left by Saracen’s military contract in Puntland is as replete with clues as to what is really going on as it is with dead ends apparently aimed at corporate camouflage.

Though it has been controlled and staffed by South Africans (associated with Saracen SA, which does not exist as a company in the SA registry), the contract is in fact held by a shadowy Beirut-registered entity styled as Saracen Lebanon SAL (Soceite Anonyme Libanaise), founded in March 2010.

Both Saracen SA and Saracen Lebanon are satellites of Saracen International, established as a limited company in the opaque British Virgin Islands registry in 2005.

Investigations by Associated Press and the UN established that Saracen Lebanon listed as a director a certain Ukrainian national of Palestinian origin by the name of Jamal Muhammad Balassi – who was not in Lebanon to answer the UN’s questions. His two listed fellow directors both have records for financial fraud, and denied any knowledge of the company’s activities, according to the UN’s Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group report of June 2011. However further investigations established that Balassi was an employee of a company linked to American private military contractor Erik Dean Prince.

Prince was the founder of the notorious Blackwater PMC, one of the primary contractors to the US military in the invasion of Iraq, but disposed of the company amidst a welter of multimillion-dollar lawsuits over Blackwater’s activities in the Iraq war. Prince at the same time took himself from the fray, moving to the United Arab Emirates.

Prince’s documented involvement in the Saracen enterprise, it has emerged, went back to nearly two years earlier when he held a meeting with Saracen SA kingpin Lafras Luitingh In Washington DC on October 28, 2009.

This meeting was followed by another in the UAE in December of the same year, where Luitingh met a consortium of still anonymous donors. At the meeting he outlined a programme aimed at fighting rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and the training of a personal security detail for the President of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. Prince was also reportedly present in person at the meeting.

By March 2010, with the ink barely dry on the Saracen Lebanon registration, Luitingh was in Somalia to see officials of the TFG, and signing memorandums of understanding covering a training programme for TFG security forces including an anti-terrorism elite force and a presidential security detail, as well as a heavily armed coast guard to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

In the background, around this time, another series of meetings was conducted by Luitingh and other former Executive Outcomes personnel with Saracen International’s Uganda operation. The key figure in the Uganda office was Salim Saleh – brother of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni – a business partner of longtime EO associate Tony Buckingham, boss of Heritage Oil. Together Saleh and Buckingham have been named in several UN reports for resources rape in conflict situations, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo.

By October 2010, it was all systems go. Luitingh in the company of Michael Shanklin, former CIA officer drafted in as consultant to the private military contract, was in Mogadishu with a skeleton staff of Saracen personnel, and took receipt of a first consignment of armoured vehicles fitted with gun turrets.

It was not long, however, before the commander of the UN mandated AU peacekeeping forces in Somalia sounded the alarm, complaining of “unknown military groups in the Mission area”, and the Somali parliament demanded the TFG reveal details of contracts with “foreign companies illegally operating in our area”.

By the time the scandal blew up and the TFG cancelled its contracts with Saracen, Luitingh and his associates had already regrouped, concluding deals with the Puntland administration – and withdrawing its already substantial materiel to the Puntland port of Bossaso. - Sunday Independent

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