In a damning report last month to the UN Security Council, UN investigators accused two South African-linked companies – Southern Ace Ltd and Saracen International – of "egregious violations" of the arms embargo on Somalia.
The report named Paul Calder le Roux, “also known as Bernard John Bowlins”, as a key figure in Southern Ace’s activities and stated that although he was a “silent partner” in the company, he was “believed by law enforcement officials” to be the “actual owner”.
Le Roux, believed to be based in the Philippine capital Manila, made headlines in 2008 when Media24 Investigations exposed his involvement in a bid to secure 99-year leases on farmland seized by the Zimbabwean government as part of its “land reform programme”.
According to the UN report, Southern Ace, which is based in Hong Kong, joined forces with a Somali businessman, Liban Mohamed Ahmed, also known as Ottavio, in January 2009 to establish operations in central Somalia in the self-proclaimed Galmudug state.
Documents seen by investigators showed that between March and June 2009, at least $500 000 (R3.5m) was wired via Dubai from Le Roux’s company in the Philippines, La Plata Trading, to cover “start-up costs”.
The report estimated that between 2009 and 2011, Le Roux and his associates spent $3m in Somalia, including “$1m in militia salaries and more than $150 000 on arms”.
Southern Ace recruited militia men from Ottavio’s subclan, paying them $300 a month and equipping them with Kalashnikov rifles and light machine guns.
Ottavio subsequently established another company that “began to experiment with the cultivation of hallucinogenic plants, including opium, coca and cannabis, initially at the Southern Ace compound”.
A former Southern Ace employee told investigators two Philippine nationals, a Zimbabwean and a South African maintenance technician advised on cultivation.
By early last year, according to confidential UN reports, Southern Ace “operated a well-equipped, 220-strong militia supervised by a dozen Zimbabweans... with the potential to change the balance of power in the area”.
The reports suggested that the Southern Ace force was involved in a number of battles, including fighting in November last year that raged for several days.
The report claimed that in March last year Le Roux planned to import 75kg of C4 explosives, 2 000 landmines, a million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition and anti-tank missiles to the region.
The delivery never took place after a dispute between Le Roux and Ottavio, when “Le Roux realised he was paying his militiamen almost twice the market rate”.
Ottavio and three local Southern Ace employees were jailed for three weeks following the shooting of a Southern Ace employee earlier this year and the firm’s assets, including weapons, were divided among local militias.
Repeated attempts to contact Le Roux by phone and e-mail proved unsuccessful.
The report was also highly critical of the involvement of another South African-linked company, Saracen International, in the country, saying its operations represented a “significant violation of the general and complete arms embargo on Somalia” and “constituted a threat to peace and security”.
Backed by notorious Blackwater founder Erik Prince and Abu Dhabi officials, Saracen gained a foothold in the semi-autonomous Puntland in northern Somalia to train an anti-piracy marine force.
Key figures in Saracen included Bill Pelser, a former South African special forces soldier, and Lafras Luitingh, a former operative in the apartheid government’s notorious Civil Co-operation Bureau, and a founder member of the defunct mercenary firm Executive Outcomes.
South Africa’s permanent mission to the UN failed to respond to official requests for further information from investigators, and attempts to reach Saracen for comment were also fruitless.
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