The Independent said western mercenaries and businessmen, including British citizens, have swindled Khalifa Haftar out of tens of millions of dollars over the years for military hardware and services not delivered.
The British newspaper said, according to diplomatic sources and people involved in past deals, it is not only military defeat that has cost the one-time CIA asset a lot of money, as reports shed further light into Libya’s already messy civil war that in recent years has become a deeply complex theater of international mercenary and proxy warfare.
The Independent said a recent confidential UN probe reports that a team of 20 foreign mercenaries, including five Britons (two of them former Royal Marines), 12 South Africans, two Australians and an American were paid upwards of $120,000 each last June to create a marine strike force.
UN investigators believe they were contracted to prevent Turkish-supplied weapons from reaching the GNA. During the three-month job the team were reportedly expected to track down, board and search vessels.
According to two diplomatic sources with knowledge of the report presented to the Security Council’s sanctions committee in February, the soldiers of fortune fled to Malta last June in two rigid inflatable boats (RHIB), just days after landing in east Libya after the deal went south.
“On the island, they were briefly detained by the Maltese authorities who say the RHIBs were chartered by Maltese firm, Sovereign Charters, whose owner James Fenech was charged in April this year with leasing out the vessels in breach of EU sanctions on Libya.” The newspaper explained.
The diplomats told The Independent a fight erupted between the group and Haftar, who was furious that the value of the military hardware and services rendered totaled little more than an estimated $30 million of the $80 million paid.
The diplomats added that the famously explosive commander “swore revenge” and fearing for their lives, the group, who were apparently followed after the altercation, fled the country.
One of the sources said the UN probe found that Haftar had received six older helicopters that he did not want, including three Gazelles and three Pumas – estimated by investigators to be worth no more than $14 million.
“The journey of the aircraft spanned thousands of kilometres across the African continent: They were allegedly purchased in South Africa by a network of UAE-linked firms and flown to Libya from Botswana, on documents which suggested Jordan was their final destination. According to the source, the investigators obtained documentation that the deal was supposed to contain a more expensive Cobra attack helicopter and a LASA T-Bird, an agricultural plane adapted for surveillance and warfare, as well as other hardware which never appeared. The total personnel cost for the mercenaries was estimated to be no more than $2.4m – meaning there was a sizable shortfall.” The Independent said.
The two diplomats told the newspaper that Dubai-based companies Lancaster 6 and Opus were named by UN investigators as allegedly paying for and managing the deals.
This was not the first time that Haftar had apparently been duped out of millions, the newspaper said, adding that in another instance which took place during 2016 and 2017, he allegedly paid an American businessman to buy an offshore patrol vessel to guard the waters off east Libya – but the ship was never delivered.
A western diplomat familiar with the deal, and an employee of a UAE based company that was unwittingly caught up in it, said this businessman from Texas was paid over $6.5m by Haftar, in partnership with one of the general’s sons, to purchase a naval ship. Had it been delivered it may have violated the UN arms embargo on Libya.
Under a now-defunct company, the businessman contracted the UAE-based Excel International to do repairs in early 2016 on the vessel, which included a helipad.
“However, the Texan tycoon, who The Independent has chosen not to name, not only failed to deliver the boat to General Haftar’s forces, but failed to pay Excel International company, which had originally purchased the patrol vessel from the Mauritius coastguard as part of a legitimate business deal. A senior Excel employee said the company had no idea or the east Libyan authorities were the true purchaser – the deal was arranged under the name of the defunct company, which asked for the vessel to be repaired and repainted so it could be deployed to protect oil tankers for clients in the Middle East region.” The Independent revealed.
A senior employee of Excel International told The Independent they were initially paid a small sum in 2016 but were still owed over $2m for repairs, maintenance, crew salaries and expenses. The Independent received a document showing proof of a small wire transfer of money from the Texan individual to the captain of the boat in December 2016.
After dodging a year of bills, the businessman eventually disappeared in late 2017. The UAE-based company kept the boat and renamed it, it added.
The UN panel of experts reported last year that in May 2018 Haftar’s forces were able to eventually acquire a different offshore patrol vessel, which was later named “Al Karama”.
This time the vessel was successfully purchased via a different UAE company named Universal Satcom Services, in violation of the arms embargo as it was classified as a naval vessel.
Since its transfer to Libya, the UN report said the Al Karama has been refitted with the weapons systems including one 40 mm cannon and two 20 mm cannons.