Libya mercenaries: UN Panel sceptical Fenech did not know RHIBs had military use

United Nations panel sceptical on claims made by James Fenech that he was unaware of Opus Capital’s connections or Libyan interests when leasing RHIBs for evacuation of oil and gas personnel

James Fenech, the owner of Sovereign Charterers. Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday
James Fenech, the owner of Sovereign Charterers. Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday

The United Nations Panel that investigated a helicopter gunship plot hatched by Western military contractors for Libyan renegade Khalifa Haftar, gave short shrift to claims by Maltese arms supplier James Fenech that he was leasing his boats out for an oil and gas company. 

Sources told MaltaToday that the UN Panel said in its report that they doubted Fenech’s claims that when he leased out two RHIBs for the rapid evacuation of oil and gas personnel, he was unaware of Opus Capital’s connections or Libyan interests. 

“Considering Fenech’s known close linkages to private military companies through the auspices of his other business… the Panel considers it unlikely that he found this to be a credible explanation,” the Panel said of the fact that he leased two RHIBs for what turned out to an evacuation mission of 20 mercenaries. 

James Fenech is the owner of Sovereign Charters, which is part of Fenech’s Unified Global Services Group. 

Fenech is charged in a Maltese 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 Dubai firm has turned out to be a front for the Emirates’ support of Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which together with another private military contractor, Lancaster 6, hatched a plan to supply Haftar with military helicopters. 

Fenech told the UN Panel that he told that the vessels were “required for evacuation purposes as a number of oil and gas and other multinational companies would require solutions to evacuate their personnel specifically for Insurance purposes”. 

But the Panel said that considering Fenech’s linkages to private military companies, it considered it unlikely that he found this to be a credible explanation considering the individuals and organizations involved in the charter of the vessels.  

The Panel also insisted that Fenech’s were military equipment under UN resolutions on Libya. 

The Panel said Fenech was in technical non-compliance with resolution 1970 (2011) for the provision and transfer of military equipment to a private military company supporting an armed group in Libya. 

But it emphasised that Fenech cooperated fully and acceded readily to all information requests during the investigation. “Fenech was probably unaware that the transfer of an unarmed vessel, albeit to military specifications, would be a non-compliance of the sanctions measures,” the Panel said. 

Fenech received payment for the RHIBs from Lancaster 6, a company belonging to former fighter pilot Christiaan Durrant, and which has a Malta subsidiary. Fenech this week told MaltaToday outside court that he knew Durrant, despite past attempts at denying any links with his company. Durrant is also a former associate of Blackwater founder Erik Prince. 

Fenech’s lawyers insisted with the UN that the RHIBs were not military assets, despite  being advertised on the Sovereign Charters website as MRC-1250 “Special Forces” RHIBs “hardened for maritime security operations”. 

The Panel however insisted that the description was accurate and was changed on the website after the UN’s interest. It also consulted with the RHIBs’ manufacturer, New Madera RIBs B.V., which lists identical vessels under their military section rather than civilian section. The company confirmed to the Panel that it rarely, if ever, sold all black RHIBs with all black engines, to other than military or security clients.  

Fenech also told the Panel that one of his RHIBs was lost at sea after hitting a rock during the evacuation procedures. “Client personnel had no choice but to go on board the other RHIB, abandon the vessel and continue towards Malta.” 

But the Panel insists that this contradicting Opus Capital’s lawyer’s response, who claimed the vessel did not suffer any incident but that it was unsuitable for the voyage undertaken at such short notice. 

Fenech’s companies were paid $541,000 for the delivery of the two RHIBs by Lancaster6 DMCC, as well as $69,000 for marine fuel and search operation for the lost RHIB, $30,000 for marine safety equipment, and another $497,000 in compensation for the lost RHIB.  

READ ALSO: Investigators uncover roles of mercenaries in UAE-backed Libya helicopter gunship plan

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