By Haggai Matsiko
Briton under arrest as Israel frees own arms merchants
The continued detention of Paul Simon, a British security expert and arms merchant has lifted a lid off details of an arms deal between Uganda and Israel. The weapons involved are designed for close combat fighting by elite units like the Special Forces Group of the UPDF which is commanded by the First son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, and include the Presidential Guard Brigade. The weapons include assault rifles, pistols, sub-machine guns, and their accessories, and night vision equipment.
Paul Simon was arrested together with two Israel arms dealers; Dotan Regev and Asaf Ben Israel, and one Ugandan, who were meeting him at Entebbe Airport as he returned from London on Oct.27.
The Israel arms merchants in question are representatives of Israel’s major arms manufacturer and supplier, Israel Weapons Industries (IWI) from which Uganda’s Ministry of Defence ordered a batch of weapons. Regev also co-owns Hercules Support Ltd, which has been operating in Uganda for about three years as a security service provider to mainly the private sector. Paul Simon is the company’s deputy chairman.
They were detained at the Special Investigations Unit of the Uganda Police at Kireka and allegedly tortured.
“It (detention) caused a severe diplomatic crisis,” Regev told Israel publication Haaretz after his release, “The police committed so many crimes against us that the judge wrote that we are entitled to sue the state for torture. We intend to file a huge lawsuit in the International Court.”
By a severe diplomatic crisis, Regev was referring to a hasty visit to Uganda by an Israel’s top envoy, based in Kenya. Uganda does not have an Israel consular facility.
Regev’s claims might be exaggerated but the debacle appears to have caused some diplomatic damage as, sources say; the Israel authorities were not pleased especially given that top security officials were involved.
Although Ugandan courts eventually cleared all of them, a cloud of secrecy still surrounds why Paul Simon remains under house arrest.
At the heart of Simon’s troubles, some sources say, is a business dispute between the arrested agents and another Israel agent, who is highly connected to top officials in police, the UPDF and the executive. Apparently, the highly connected agent caused Simon and the Israelis to be arrested.
One of the released officials, Regev, made claims to that effect.
“A competing company caused us this damage, with use of financial and political force,” Regev told Israel’s publication Haaretz after being released. “They led government officials to get incorrect information.”
Some insiders have pointed fingers to an Israel called Olando Barak—one of the well-connected Israel arms merchant in Uganda’s security circles.
Apart from Barak, the other renowned Israeli weapons merchant in Uganda is Amos Golan. A retired Israel army colonel and ex-Mossad officer, he was first contracted in 1999 to have four Uganda army MIG-21s refurbished by Israel Aircraft Industries.
In other quarters, it is said the arrest and detention of the men, might have to do with the fall-out between former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and President Yoweri Museveni.
Mbabazi who is being harassed for allegedly harbouring ambitions to topple Museveni, has until the fallout been Museveni and Uganda’s linkman to Israel.
Whatever the case, the arms deal was in advanced stages and a cargo containing 12 weapons and accessories and 6000 rounds of ammunition was already in the custody of the UPDF.
A letter from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Rosettie Byengoma dated Jan.29 shows that they were picked from Entebbe airport. They arrived aboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight, according to an airway bill seen by The Independent.
The sample weapons were tested by the UPDF at Singo training facility in Nakasongola.
Paul Simon is a close associate of the Uganda Police leadership. He co-owns a company called Hercules Support Ltd, which has been operating in Uganda for about three years as a security service provider to mainly the private sector. In October 2012, Hercules signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Uganda for the modernisation of the police canine unit. It was witnessed by Uganda Police Special Investigation Department boss, Charles Kataratambi. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Stephen Kagoda, signed on behalf of the government.
The Company was even given land at Nagalama to carry out its activities and holds a valid PSO license and a valid Investment License and a number of valid gun licenses. Documents show that Paul Simon established a private security company and hired 61 guards.
The debacle has exposed an arms deal between Uganda and Israel. Arms purchases in Uganda are usually highly classified operations purportedly to guard national security.
This case is significant as comes fresh on the heels of claims that Uganda accepted some unwanted African Immigrants from Israel in exchange for arms.
Israel is a major global weapons exporter and its sales hit a record high of US$7.5bn last year, up from $5.8bn the previous year.
When President Yoweri Museveni visited Israel in 2011, Israel media reported that Golan, who also represents Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and other Israeli defense industries in Uganda, had organised the trip.
Museveni toured IAI and its various subsidiaries, before moving on to tour the Soltam plant in Yokneam, which makes mortars. He also reportedly attended an air show of pilotless drones and observed a firing exhibition at an Israel Defense Forces base.
At the time, Israel media also reported that President Museveni was interested in purchasing pilotless drones and mortars.
Apparently, Museveni also wanted to arrange for more of Uganda’s planes to be upgraded. Previously, Uganda had signed an about US$20 million contract with IAI for the upgrading of 12 MiG-21 planes.
Following his visit, Uganda accepted a group of African immigrants in what many dubbed an exchange for arms, makes the two countries transactions interesting.
Arms deals apart, Uganda has always sent its military officials to Israel for training especially after the two countries’ relations started recovering from a low of 1976, when Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Air France plane to Uganda’s Entebbe Airport and Israel sent a commando force into the country to seize the airport and rescue the hostages.
This is not the first time Uganda is buying arms from Israel. An online arms trade database published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), shows that Uganda purchased arms from Israel in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2009.
But for many, following the arrival of the immigrants from Israel, arms imports from Israel to Uganda will be more interesting.
Because the particular batch in question is fairly small, security experts claim it might be destined for a small elite specialised unit.
The biggest controversy, however, is why after ordering the weapons; Ugandan authorities are accusing the merchants of illegally importing the same weapons.
When we sought Paul Simon for his side of the story, he declined to delve into details.
“All I can tell you is that I am innocent,” Paul said, “I have been tortured so much. I cannot talk to the press.”
The Independent could not verify these claims given the secretive nature of the security sector. But official documents, including the transactions from both IWI and Ministry of Defence have been exposed as a result of the lengthy court battles the authorities and Paul Simon are still involved in.
The documents reveal that while the Ugandan authorities are detaining Paul Simon over illegal importation of arms, the same arms he is being charged over were ordered by the UPDF.
On Jan.29, Ministry of Defence’s Permanent Secretary Rosettie Byengoma wrote a letter certifying that the UPDF was the end-user of the weapons procured from Israel’s seller and manufacturer, IWI.
The weapons included; one Galli Sniper, SA with its accessories, one Neger assault rifle and its accessories, one X95 assault rifle and its accessories, three Jericho pistols with accessories, one Uzi Pro SMG 9mm and its accessories, one eye night vision and its accessories, one boxer night vision and its accessories, one hunter X4 and its accessories and 6000 rounds of ammunition.
Apart from the certificate under-signed by Byengoma, The Independent has also seen another certificate, this time from IWI, which shows that the same type of weapons were ordered and would be delivered to the Uganda Ministry of Defence headquarters at Mbuya.
Two days after Byengoma’s letter, Awita Lodovick, the Commandant Aviation Police, Entebbe informed the Cargo Manager, Ethiopian Airlines that the weapons were indeed for the UPDF, a Jan.31 letter shows.
However, in a turn of events, the police descended upon the trio as Simon Paul returned from London and arrested them illegal importation of firearms. The accusations, according to Simon’s lawyers, are “frivolous, vexatious and malicious”. The UPDF and Uganda do not appear to think so.
Security operatives from SIU have searched Simon’s office and home twice.
When they were in detention at the SIU, security officials commanded by a man who claimed to be an English colonel interrogated him.
When on Oct.31, Paul Simon and the trio secured an order for unconditional release from the Chief Magistrates Court of Nakawa; the police disregarded and disobeyed it.
Four days later, on Nov.3, they obtained another order from the Chief Magistrates Court of Nakawa and it too was disregarded and disobeyed by the Police.
Even when the High Court ordered them to be produced before it at Nakawa at 4pm on Nov.6, the police declined to produce them. Instead they produced them the following day, Nov. 7.
The High Court found that the agents had been tortured and held in illegal detention and directed Kataratambi and the police not to re-arrest them, police did the exact opposite.
But plain-cloth officers from the specialised police units like SIU and Flying Squad who had been waiting outside the court premises immediately re-arrested them in total contempt of court and were put under House arrest.
Simon was subsequently charged with illegal importation of arms and is still in detention.
In the documents, the lawyers representing Paul Simon wonder how a government to government deal turned around to be used to implicate the British official to an extent of disregarding court decisions.
The documents also reveal that the only access members of Hercules Support Limited had to the weapons in question was when they were involved in testing them at Singo in the presence of senior UPDF officers.
According to the documents prepared by his lawyers and submitted to court, Paul Simon also did not as alleged or at all import any weapons in Uganda. The UPDF was the end user of the cargo as proven by both the certificate from the Defence Ministry and from IWI.
According to Regev, the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura is the one who had requested them to come to Uganda and participate in fighting terrorism by giving the Police and the army skills.
Israel authorities’ could not understand why the two were detained under such circumstances yet they had documentation and an understanding with top Ugandan security officials.
Even after court authorities cleared them and criticised the manner in which they were arrested, police first prevented the men from leaving the country for a number of days.
It is not clear why the weapons ordered by the UPDF, ended up being kept at Paul Simon’s house in Mbuya. His lawyers say it was done by the UPDF as they verified their cargo.