Murdered Maltese caught in the crosshairs of Somalia’s violent politics

Paul Anthony Formosa from Marsaskala fronted a controversial port project in Somalia and was in the country legally when he was killed by terrorists, sources tell MaltaToday

Paul Anthony Formosa worked for P&O Ports in Somalia at the time he was murdered
Paul Anthony Formosa worked for P&O Ports in Somalia at the time he was murdered

The Maltese man murdered in Somalia was in the country legally despite claims by the group that owned up to the killing, sources in Mogadishu said. 

Paul Anthony Formosa, 52, from Marsaskala worked as project manager for P&O Ports, a subsidiary of Dubai-based DP World, which was entrusted with developing the port of Bossasso.

Formosa was the face for the controversial concession that P&O was awarded in April 2017 by the regional government of Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia.

A source in the Somali capital of Mogadishu told MaltaToday that the assassination had all the trademarks of an Al-Shabaab killing.

Puntland is a semi-autonomous region in Somalia
Puntland is a semi-autonomous region in Somalia

Formosa was killed on Monday after two armed gunmen shot him at close range while he was on his way to the port. He is reported to have died in hospital.

“As a result of licencing and legal aspects in Puntland, Formosa’s protection was provided by the local police rather than commercial security entities,” the source said.

Al-Shabaab extorts protection money from businesses to finance its terrorist operations and those who do not pay get killed or attacked, the source added. It is clear that P&O would not pay.

Al-Shabaab’s military operations claimed that Formosa was staying in the country illegally. 

“We had warned him but he turned a deaf ear. He was illegally in Somalia,” Abdiasis Abu Musab was reported to have said.

The terrorist organisation insisted that the attack was part of broader operations targeting “the mercenary companies that loot the Somali resources”.

But the source said Formosa was in Somalia in accordance with the country’s immigration law, despite Al-Shabaab’s claim.

“Al-Shabaab tried to exploit the controversy over the port concession to defend its actions,” the source said.

Paul Anthony Formosa is seated at the head table during the handover ceremony in 2017 that saw P&O Ports formally takeover the port of Bossasso
Paul Anthony Formosa is seated at the head table during the handover ceremony in 2017 that saw P&O Ports formally takeover the port of Bossasso

The Puntland government awarded P&O Ports a 30-year concession worth $336 million for the management and development of Bossasso port in April 2017.

The company had to develop the port in two phases. Work on the project involved building a 450-metre quay and a five-hectare back up area.

It also included a major investment in IT, mobile harbour cranes and container handling equipment.

Formosa was responsible for the project, having gained experience over the years on port services. He started on the job in 2017.

However, the project was shrouded in controversy with corruption claims being levelled at Puntland President Abdiweli Gaas.

In November 2017, a dispute erupted over increased port charges that culminated in the port being shut for more than a week.

According to reports in Somalia, P&O Ports increased freight-handling charges five-fold, leading to protests by cargo operators and livestock exporters.

In August last year, Puntland legislators rejected a motion to end the P&O Ports deal, which was tabled by 20 MPs. The proponents of the motion claimed that contractual obligations had not been adhered to.

However, the state assembly voted down the motion.

When he was murdered, Formosa was caught up in the middle of local controversy over the port deal in a country that is plagued by instability and terrorist activity.

A car bomb killed 11 in Mogadishu on the same day Paul Anthony Formosa was murdered
A car bomb killed 11 in Mogadishu on the same day Paul Anthony Formosa was murdered

The source speaking to MaltaToday said that on the same morning as Formosa’s killing, a car bomb killed 11 in Mogadishu, a businessperson was shot when he declined to pay a soldier money in the Somali capital and a woman's rights activist was injured in the Puntland capital of Garowe.

The Maltese man, who worked at the Freeport until 2011, appears to have been caught in the crosshairs of Somali political bickering.

Formosa was described by people who knew him as a hard worker and very diligent. He lived in Marsaskala with his wife. He had two daughters.

After leaving the Freeport in 2011, Formosa worked as operations manager at the Syrian port of Lattakia.

The Formosa family declined to release a statement when contacted by MaltaToday.

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