Arms dealer in UN sanctions-busting case denies boats chartered for military purposes

James Fenech, accused on Friday of breaching UN sanctions, denies RHIBs chartered to UAE company were for military purposes

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

An arms dealer with an interest in one of Malta’s major road-building contracts is defending himself from accusations of having breached United Nations sanctions on Libya.

James Fenech, owner of the company Sovereign Charterers, was charged with breaching EU sanctions by supplying rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB) to Libya last week.

Fenech, who also owns the weapons company Fieldsports, has insisted that his company chartered the two vessels to a “very reputable and globally-known company operating in the UAE” in June 2019.

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: 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, to a 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.

In a statement, Fenech claimed the two vessels were contracted “on a purely ‘bare boat’ charter basis”, meaning no crew was used and solely for evacuation purposes.

“Crucially, the two vessels left Malta carrying all the necessary permits both from Malta Customs as well as from the Police Immigration unit. Although the chartering agreement with the client was for 90 days, the situation in Libya had escalated rapidly and within a few days of their delivery the client decided to use the vessels to evacuate the personnel immediately.

“Upon arrival in Malta, all 21 of the client’s evacuated management and personnel - mostly holding British, French, American, Australian and South African passports - were admitted according to all applicable Maltese laws and procedures. Shortly after their arrival, the management and personnel were allowed to fly out of Malta and return to their respective countries and families, again in full accordance with all applicable Maltese laws and procedures.”

Fenech said he denied allegations that the charter was connected to money laundering or military purposes.

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.

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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