Business Hilights
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Buhari directs Amaechi to provide security equipment worth $50m paid upfront to HSLi

Fresh fallout on the canceled controversial Nigerian waterways security deal brokered by Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi on behalf of HSLi Group of Israel, has emerged.

Otherwise, in line with the presidential order directing the termination of the contract, the presidency warned the Minister to work towards the return of either the $50m paid upfront or supply security materials in the like sum.

Business Hilights recalls that President Muhammadu Buhari, earlier last week, terminated the defence procurement contract initiated by the Minister over allegations of fraud.

Details show that the contract, signed off by the Federal Executive Council in December 2017, would have seen the contractor, HSLi, net $195 million in exchange for an undisclosed number of special mission aircraft, special mission helicopters and 12 fast intervention vessels for the Nigerian Navy.

Te contract would see Nigeria acquire three helicopters, three aircraft, three big battle-ready ships, 12 vessels and 20 amphibious cars to secure Nigerian waters.

Besides, the House of Representatives had raised questions about details of the contract and the identity of the contractor when series of petitions surged the National Assembly, seeking explanation and rationale for the veiled contract which was sealed without recourse to the Nigerian Navy.

In the memo dispatched by the Chief of Staff to the president, Abba Kyari, directing the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to terminate the contract, the president also ordered the National Security Adviser and the Nigerian Intelligence Agency to investigate how the contractor obtained security clearance for the job without an end-user certificate.

Additional findings revealed that the contractor, HSLi, frontally seen as an “Israeli company” by the transport minister is not a registered business entity in Israel, a PREMIUM TIMES’ investigation revealed. They, however, hold close ties with Mitrelli, another Israeli Company which also holds close ties with the minister.

It was further revealed that in 2012, while Mr. Amaechi was the governor of Rivers state, had awarded a $140 million contract to Mitrelli (aka LR Group) to develop a farm in Etche, a suburb of Port Harcourt, the state capital. LR Group recently rebranded as Mitrelli as it transitioned into an arms business.

Whereas the level of the contract delivery still remains a suspect considering the amount paid by the state for the farm in Etche, it was not clear if it will be possible for Nigeria to recover any part of the $50m paid to HSLi.

Part of the facts considered by the presidency to cancel the surreptitious deal may have stemmed from happenstances on the Israeli media which have reported the arrest of three Israelis earlier this week on suspicion of bribing Nigerian officials to enable defence deals worth $195 million.

The suspects are reportedly senior officials in Israel Shipyards, a formerly state-owned firm that is the country’s biggest shipbuilder and one of the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The officials are suspected of bribing a Nigerian public official in exchange for the company winning a tender to provide the Africa’s largest economy with warships, according to a report published by Times of Israel.

The investigation was made public when police officers raided Israel Shipyards’ offices in the Port of Haifa and detained the officials for questioning under caution.

They are suspected of bribing a foreign public official, false registration in corporate documents, fraud, money laundering, tax offenses and breaking a law that regulates security-related exports.

The probe was carried out by the police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit along with the Israel Tax Authority.

International law enforcement bodies have also been involved in the probe, the police statement added.

Top presidential officials in the know of the Amaechi brokered Israeli deal may have relied on both the maritime stakeholders’ criticisms and the developments in Israeli to cancel the deal and ordered return of the initial payment which did not follow due procurement process after all.