Mercenaries backing Haftar used RHIBs supplied by Malta arms dealer, UN report says

United Nations report says James Fenech’s RHIBs were used by Western mercenaries linked with Lancaster 6, which has Malta subsidiary, and Opus Capital to back Khalifa Haftar in 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

A Maltese arms and logistics supplier charged with violating sanctions for providing two RHIBs used by mercenaries in Libya, was servicing a UAE group called Opus Capital, which is believed to be used as a front for the Emirates’ support of Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army.

James Fenech had denied to MaltaToday having supplied “military assets” to either Opus Capital or Lancaster 6, a private military contractor. But the information has been confirmed to MaltaToday by police sources from the counter-terrorism unit and now Bloomberg.

“I am not aware of anything wrong that Opus Capital our client did,” he told Bloomberg. “We were told they they were involved in an oil and gas project and required an additional route for evacuation purposes.”

His company Sovereign Charters company says 21 contractors mostly carrying British, American, French, Australian and South African passports had chartered the boats for 90 days but returned to Malta shortly after and were allowed to fly out.

Since then, Fenech has been charged in court for breaching EU sanctions against Libya, by exporting the RHIBs without an appropriate export licence. Fenech has insisted his lawyers carried out due diligence on Opus Capital.

But the RHIBs were used by a team of Western mercenaries linked with two Dubai-based companies, who were deployed to Libya to assist Khalifa Haftar in his offensive to capture Tripoli, according to a confidential UN report cited by Bloomberg.

The report said the mercenaries were affiliated with Lancaster 6 DMCC, which has a Maltese subsidiary; and Opus Capital Asset Limited FZE, both registered in the United Arab Emirates.

The mercenaries traveled to Libya in June 2019 for a “well funded private military company operation” to support Haftar, who is fighting to dislodge the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord.

Lancaster 6 is run by Christiaan Durrant, an Australian fighter pilot who is a former associate of Blackwater owner Erik Prince. In Malta, Lancaster 6’s subsidiary’s company secretary is Amanda Perry, a British national based in Dubai, heads Opus Capital Asset Ltd.

The UN report says Opus and Lancaster 6 financed and directed an operation to provide Haftar’s forces with helicopters, drones and cyber capabilities through a complex web of shell companies, according to two diplomats who briefed Bloomberg on the contents of the UN Panel of Experts report shared with the Security Council’s sanctions committee in February.

The team of about 20, led by South African national Steve Lodge, arrived in Libya in late June 2019 and abruptly pulled out a few days later, leaving the North African country aboard two boats to Malta. UN investigators said in the report they were unable to determine why the team pulled out, but that the explanation provided by their lawyers, that they were providing services related to oil and gas, was not convincing.

A letter from Vince Gordon, the lawyer representing Lodge, Durrant and Perry in the matter, disputed the accusations in the report, quoting Durrant as saying: “allegations about the unlawful activity of Opus and Lancaster 6 in Libya are simply not factual and spread based on a patchwork of half truths.”

The letter said that they had cooperated with the UN investigation and offered to meet the panel several times. “Our clients intend to vigorously defend themselves and their directors and employees against false and misleading allegations.”

The report does not indicate which government commissioned the project, but the mercenaries were backing Haftar, who is backed by the UAE, Egypt and Russia.

The report found that six former military helicopters were acquired and sent to Libya for the project in what it described as non-compliance with a UN resolution for an arms embargo on Libya. The operation also called for a “targeting cell”, a group responsible for drones, and an attack helicopter, but was unable to determine if those plans went through.

Durrant is a former Australian special forces pilot who was once tasked to run a defunct aviation arm for Frontier Services Group under Erik Prince’s direction. Prince became a globally infamous figure after his Blackwater corporate soldiers were involved in a 2007 Baghdad firefight that killed 17 civilians. In 2013, after a $42 million settlement with the Justice Department, Blackwater was broken up, with its pieces renamed and Prince largely excluded from their operations. In early 2014, Prince and Citic Group, China’s largest state-owned investment firm, founded Frontier Services Group, a publicly traded logistics and aviation company based in Hong Kong. 

One of James Fenech’s arms companies, PBM Limited, has a branding agreement with the Blackwater trademark by the private military contractor Erik Prince. Yesterday Fenech denied having ever worked with Erik Prince “in any capacity… we had absolutely no dealings with him, his companies or any involvement with any of his other endeavours.”

Fenech has also denied having worked “either directly or indirectly with Christiaan Durrant, either in Malta or anywhere else in the world”. 

Lancaster 6 describes itself as “a group of passionate and highly capable individuals who believe in prosperity breeding peace” that consults governments on oil and gas, and other security issues, amongst other aims.

News reports from 2018 say the company’s activities included the acquisition of transport aircraft from Ukraine to be armed with American-made guns. The operation was similar to that employed by Prince at FSG, who had attempted to build a private air force using crop-duster planes with heavy weaponry, to run counterinsurgency campaigns largely from the air. Durrant was fired from FSG in 2015 after an internal review on Prince’s aviation activities inside the company.