Maltese arms dealer is charged in Libya sanctions-busting case

Five men have been released on bail after they pleaded not guilty to breaching EU sanctions by supplying rigid-hull inflatable boats to Libya.

James Fenech (inset) and a RHIB chartered by his company Sovereign that was reportedly left abandoned in Libya
James Fenech (inset) and a RHIB chartered by his company Sovereign that was reportedly left abandoned in Libya

The owner of a major weapons supply company and maritime vessel charterer, James Fenech, was on Friday charged with breaching EU sanctions by supplying rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB) to Libya.

Although police released details of the case on Saturday, a spokesperson refused to publish the names of the accused.

Fenech is the owner of Tangent Vector Projects, which formed part of a consortium that bid for €70 million in government road projects together with the Turkish Excel Sis Enerji Uretim Construction. Together with Gozitan developer Joseph Portelli’s company Excel Investments, he owns the company Fortis Asphalt & Concrete.

But Fenech is known for his services in weapons supply and maritime security with companies Fieldsports, Outdoor Gear Supplies Ltd, PBM, RAE Malta, Safety At Sea Logistics, Sovereign Charterers, and Stategic Supplies Ltd. All companies fall under his Unified Global Services Group.

Sovereign Charterers is a vessel chartering company for companies in oil and gas, search and rescue, film production, and logistics.

Together with four of his employees, Fenech, 41 from Mellieha, pleaded not guilty to breaching EU sanctions. The other four men, aged 63, 47, 45 and 44, as well as the company Sovereign Charterers itself, were charged with sanctions-busting, having transferred directly or indirectly two RHIBs registered in Malta to Libya and in so doing, breaching regulations laid down by the Council of the European Union.

A request to freeze assets linked to Fenech has also been issued and accepted by the courts, the police said.

The men were released on bail.

Long and intensive investigations by the police counter-terrorism squad led to the arrests, police said in a statement.

The investigations began after the police received information that a Maltese-registered company had allegedly exported two boats to Libya without the permission of the Maltese authorities in June last year.

The deal had been struck between a Maltese company and another company based in the UAE for the boats to be sent to Libya in case an emergency evacuation was required by the Emirati company. Investigators believe the incident is more likely linked to private military contractors who were believed to have been monitoring a shipment of weapons into Libyan waters.

Superintendent George Cremona and Inspector Omar Zammit prosecuted. Magistrate Victor Axiaq presided. Lawyers Joseph Giglio, Patrick Valentino and Stephen Tonna Lowell appeared for Fenech.

Fenech’s Fieldsports had once partnered with infamous former US private militia operator Erik Prince, in a venture that was reportedly set to produce and sell ammunition. A 2007 report by the European Parliament had found that Malta had, at the time, been the operational base for Prince’s private militia company, formerly known as Blackwater.

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