By Haggai Matsiko
Concern over private agencies using security to fight turf wars
The case of an Israel arms agent, Paul Simon, who was accused of illegally importing weapons into the country, has taken a new twist that has President Yoweri Museveni directing that it is resolved immediately. Paul Simon and Dotan Regev, the co-owners of Hercules Security Ltd, who were arrested by Police’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) are not only agents of the Israel Weapons Industries (IWI), they are agents of a host of other European manufacturing countries.
The President’s directive, The Independent has learnt, came when it became apparent that the case threatened to tarnish Uganda’s reputation and relations with a key “trading partner”—Israel—and other arms manufacturing countries.
The police leadership had gathered political force around allegations that the Israel agents were involved in dealings with former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Gen. David Sejusa. These allegations have since turned out false and a mere handiwork of competitors of the agents.
But away from the guns, many insiders felt that the case was handled in an embarrassing way as it exposed the lack of coordination between the two key security bodies in Uganda—the army and police.
A highly placed military source who is involved in the case told The Independent that there were questions as to why the police leadership completely left out the army leadership in dealing with this matter.
What is more disturbing is that the whole crisis has been linked to a fight by competing security firms.
Israel and other diplomats in Uganda are unhappy that the Israel agents are allegedly being framed over weapons ordered by the UPDF and cleared by the same police that detained and allegedly tortured them.
Sejusa, Mbabazi link
The allegations over dealings with former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Gen. David Sejusa were led by one `Colonel’ Charles Mullaney who, in security circles passes himself off as a British colonel formerly belonging to the British secret intelligence agency, Mi6. Mullaney is said to be in cohorts with another Israeli arms agent named Orland Barak who, in the early 1990s worked with yet another Israel arms dealer, Amos Golan, in a firm called Silver Shadow. Barak formed his arms companies after Golan was unceremoniously kicked out of Uganda.
However, The Independent has learnt that while dealing through Barak, officials in Israel got disturbing information about how weapons ordered for Uganda were ending up in the hands of rogue elements in DR Congo, CHAD and South Sudan.
The Independent understands that the French government had even reported to the UN that they had recovered from rogue elements in CHAD, Central African Republic (CAR) and DR Congo weapons made in Israel.
At first, the Israelis suspected Ugandan officials but recently discovered that Ugandan officials did not even know about these weapons.
It turned out that some agents would get weapons from Israel with documentation showing they were for Uganda and sell them to rogue elements in the region. For instance, Israeli officials learnt that rebels in South Sudan were in charge of weapons made in Israel and supplied long before South Sudan became a country. There are even reports that some of the anti-aircraft guns used to shoot at U.S jets in November 2013 were made in Israel.
It is under such circumstances that Barak got in trouble with Israel, where he was rendered persona-non-grata and allegedly faces charges of treason.
That is when Simon’s Hercules Security Ltd came into the picture. It is not clear how but somehow Barak allegedly accuses Simon of blocking one of his deals with Uganda.
One theory is that between February and March 2014, when Hercules Security Ltd officials brought in the batch of weapons in question, the Israel Trade Minister and General Manager of IWI came and met defence officials.
Insiders say that meeting revealed to the Ministry of Defence officials that they were all being ripped off. For instance, the defence officials did not know that the Jerichos, Galils and Negevs (all guns named after Israel regions) were all from the same manufacturer.
The defence officials also learnt fresh details about the Gilboa—a version of an M16 riffle, which is manufactured somewhere in Eastern Europe by Silver Shadow, Golan’s company. The original M16 was patented and manufactured by an American company, which has since stopped its production, allowing others to produce it.
All this was new to defence officials. It is also believed that when in 2011 Museveni visited Israel and met a former contact of his called Amos Golan, an ex-Mossad agent who helped him learn a few other things about how private contractors had been ripping Uganda off.
In the past, Uganda has had several streaks of buying fake tanks, choppers and other military equipment. The Independent understands that even some of the boats that were brought in to patrol the waters in the Albertan region, which hold some of Uganda’s oil, have since broken down. They are said to be substandard yet they cost Uganda about U.S$8.6 million.
While in Israel, therefore, Golan, who represents Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and its other subsidiaries, showed Museveni around. 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.
Interestingly, in the early 1990s, Amos Golan was the main dealer of Israel weapons to Uganda. Golan ran a company called Silver Shadow which employed a young energetic Israeli named Orland Barak. This is the same Barak allegedly hounding Paul Simon.
A military insider intimated to The Independent that Golan left Uganda a very angry man when UPDF officials blocked him from meeting the President after he had chartered a plane and landed at President’s country home. Golan was told he had only four days in Uganda or he would be arrested. He had been staying at the Sheraton but never even made it there. A wounded Golan got back onto the plane and headed to Entebbe airport never to return. Insiders say Golan might have gotten into problems with Barak, who is suspected of undercutting him and taking over all the contracts.
With Golan out, Barak took over. He set up three companies– Yamasec, spatasec and SWAT—dealing in security services. The Independent has also learnt that he has supplied the UPDF with equipment including boats and air force trainer jets. It is not clear whether the airforce trainer jet that crash-landed on top of a pit-latrine and burst into flames in Patek Village, Bobi Sub-county in Gulu district in May last year was one of the batch supplied by Barak. Given that such deals are usually classified, The Independent could not verify these reports.
Museveni’s trip to Israel and the uncovering of inflated costs and fake supplies appears to have damaged Barak’s reputation. The Israel government is said to have decided to do government to government deal and in a more legit fashion. That included doing fresh due diligence on Uganda—albeit the Israeli way.
Barak hits back
That is how officials at Hercules Security Ltd came in and replaced Barak—this time as the official agents licenced to deliver Israeli weapons.
Paul Simon also has an advantage of being Jewish and his partner, Regev, is an ex-Israeli combatant and was once head of security for an Israeli airport. Asaf Bin Israel is also an ex-Israel combatant.
Paul Simon also allegedly deals with some of the world’s biggest contractors like Pell Frieshman. In brief, the Israeli government felt they could trust this group better than Barak.
Barak, it seems, felt that these officials had undercut him. The Independent could not access Barak and relied on sources who know his dealings.
Sources revealed that it is under these circumstances that Barak who has stayed in Uganda longer, married a Ugandan and is well connected in the high echelons of the security bodies here took on the Hercules Security Ltd officials.
At the height of the crisis, The Independent has learnt, the region’s top Israel envoy warned Barak against fighting the Israel citizens. The Independent also heard that Barak had responded that his home was now Uganda and he cared less about Israel.
But it is not just Barak that was fighting the Israel agents. Thomas Maarten Verkerk, a Dutch man who used to work with Hercules Security Group, is also allegedly involved.
Hercules Security, The Independent has learnt was forced to fire Verkerk when it emerged that the later was undermining the company and most likely working for Barak. The Independent discovered that the company even placed an advert in the papers distancing itself from Verkerk, specifically the Daily Monitor of Dec.05.
The other man involved in the fight, `Col.’ Mullaney is suspected to be from Barbados. Mullaney met President Museveni and is alleged to have come up with the report alleging that Paul Simon had flown to London and met Gen. David Sejusa, while he was still in exile. According to the report, Paul Simon was selling guns to Sejusa and planned to do the same with former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who fell out with President Museveni. It was also alleged that Paul Simon had brought into Uganda trucks, which he intended to use to block roads in a grand scheme by officials to carry out a coup against Museveni. Paul Simon was a danger to security, Mullaney said to officials.
It is because of these sorts of reports that officials had been working around the clock to deport Paul Simon. Mullaney had even requested a security budget to carry out further investigations.
While The Independent could not verify all this, our sources say it had been corroborated by several diplomats. The Independent also knows through Paul Simon’s close associates that the British envoys including the High commissioner, Alison Blackburne have been directly involved in pushing for the matter to be resolved.
The Independent also discovered that indeed Paul Simon is involved in a fight with either some Ugandan security officials or someone who has insider information.
Recently, however, highly placed diplomatic sources say Mullaney has always been on the watch list of criminal suspects of the British envoys here in Kampala.
But that did not stop Mullaney from securing a meeting with President Museveni.
Military insiders are uneasy that private security contractors have infiltrated Uganda’s security system to an extent of using it in their fights against competitors. In this particular case, insiders say, what sparked off the incident was a fight between private contractors over who dominates the arms deals involving Israel, specifically for the IWI.
Paul Simon and Regev (ex-combatant) were arrested together with two others– Asaf Bin Israel (ex-combatant) and a Ugandan called Arinaitwe. While police illegally deported Regev and Bin Israel, Paul was kept in detention. Authorities wanted to deport him too but failed. The police have other charges; including abuse, against Paul Simon although his lawyers have described all these as “frivolous, vexatious and malicious”. The lawyers say the charges have failed to hold in courts of law.
The Independent reveals that the day police deported Regev and Bin Israel; the Israel ambassador had flown in from Kenya. But as he drove into the gate of the house where the agents were being held, a police car with tinted glasses was also heading out with the agents he had come to rescue.
While the police officials told him the agents were being taken to be cleared. It later turned out that they had been whisked away to the airport and deported. The Independent has learnt that because of all this, Regev and Bin Israel missed their flight to Nairobi. They were forced to pay for other tickets, used Ethiopian Airlines to Addis, from where they connected to Israel.
Once in Israel, Regev told media that they had been tortured and the incident had sparked off a severe diplomatic row.
“A competing company caused us this damage, with use of financial and political force,” Regev told Israel’s publication Haaretz , “They led government officials to get incorrect information.”
According to Regev, it is the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura, who had requested them to come to Uganda and participate in fighting terrorism by giving the Police and the army skills.
Indeed, police had signed an MoU with Hercules Security Ltd, which Regev co-owns. The weapons in question had been ordered by the army as The Independent has previously reported.
It not clear why police would go ahead and arrest these officials, arraign them in court, illegally deport some and use plain-clothed officers from SIU and Flying Squad to immediately re-arrested them in total contempt.
Both the army and police could not give an explanation when contacted by The Independent.
The UPDF spokesperson, Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, said he was aware of Paul Simon but asked us to call him back for the details. When The Independent called back, his phones were off.
The Independent also got in touch with the Police’s Deputy Spokesperson, Polly Namaye, but she asked said the judiciary was better placed to comment on the case.
A source in the judiciary who declined to be quoted said Paul Simon’s case was expected to be concluded any time. By the time The Independent went to press, Paul Simon was expected to appear in court.
Meanwhile, as the army moves to clear the agents, the government prosecutors face one option to drop the charges anytime. And as the judge had ruled in October, the Israeli agents will choose whether or not to sue government for a whole load of cash in compensation.
That is just one bit of the damage this debacle might have caused. A lot of damage might come from it making public details of an arms deal that should have remained classified. Thanks to the scandal, Ugandans now know that the weapons involved were samples 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.
The weapons include assault rifles, pistols, sub-machine guns, and their accessories, and night vision equipment. Both the army top leadership and police leadership were at some point involved in inspecting the arms with officials from IWI who flew in from Israel. In fact, the Israel Foreign Trade Minister and the General Manager of IWI met army officials at the Mbuya army headquarters and police officials at the Naguru police headquarters including in General Kale Kayihura’s boardroom.
Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Katumba Wamala and his deputy Charles Angina were amongst the officials that met the delegation from Israel that had been brought in by Paul Simon and Regev.
Earlier, on January 29, 2014 Ministry of Defence’s Permanent Secretary Rosettie Byengoma had written a letter certifying that the UPDF was the end-user of the weapons procured from IWI. The Independent also reported of 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. Awita Lodovick, the Commandant Aviation Police, Entebbe had also informed the Cargo Manager, Ethiopian Airlines that the weapons were indeed for the UPDF, a January 31, 2014 letter shows.
Part of the meeting at the defence headquarters, therefore, involved checking the samples of the weapons, which after the checks remained in the custody of the army.
Apart from getting Uganda into trouble with Israel, by exposing classified information, the debacle threatened to cause a lot of harm.
Matters were not helped by the fact that on top of not charging the agents within legal 48 hours, police ignored a court order and illegally re-arrested them after they had been released unconditionally.
Ironically, as this went on, The Independent has learnt, the Israeli agent’s company Hercules Support Ltd, which has been operating in Uganda for about three years as a security service provider, has retained all its clients including key government institutions.
At one level, Paul and Regev are agents of over 10 arms manufacturers especially in Europe, who like to go about the arms business discreetly. For instance, The Independent reveals that police had cleared Glock pistols for Hercules Security Ltd. Glock pistols are made by an Austrian company named Glock. Such countries put a big premium on their reputation and are usually unwilling to sell to agents who are likely to supply controversial buyers.