Israeli businesswoman Yardena Ovadia is operating as a mediator in arms sales to the African nation of Equatorial Guinea for sums of up to $100 million, security sources told Haaretz in recent days.
One such deal involved sales by Israel Shipyards Ltd. and Israel Military Industries Ltd. (IMI) to the country's military, including four Shaldag patrol and escort boats and a Sa'ar missile boat. They are also reportedly building a dockyard in the country.
IMI was also involved in a multimillion dollar deal between Aeronautics, a Yavneh-based company, for building a fleet of scout vehicles for that country's military. Neither Israel Shipyards nor Aeronautics, nor Ovadia herself, commented on the matter.
The Channel 2 news program "Fact" ran a profile of Ovadia on Sunday but made no mention of the weapons deal allegations.
Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony, is considered one of the most poorly-run states of western Africa. Ovadia, who grew up in the hardscrabble Negev city of Dimona, first visited the country several years ago and formed a friendship with President Teodoro Obiang, who has ruled the country since a bloody coup in 1979. Obiang is believed to have ordered the deaths of thousands of citizens during his tenure, and to head of one of the most corrupt regimes on the continent.
Nearly every business deal involving Israeli firms in recent years, whether civil or military, has gone through Ovadia, the security sources said. In the past, she has been connected to deals involving Brig. Gen. (Res.) Shlomo Ilia, now owner of a private business, and Boaz Badihi, an Israeli who operates from South Africa. These deals involved the sale of armored personnel vehicles, ammunition and military training for members of Obiang's regime.
IMI was also reportedly linked to the regime, but Ilia told Haaretz he denied any connection to the alleged arms sales and said his business in Equatorial Guinea was civil rather than military. Badihi did not respond to the request of Haaretz for an interview.
Israel and Equatorial Guinea maintain diplomatic ties, though Jerusalem has refused to allow Obiang to visit. Ovadia has sought several times to persuade the Foreign Ministry to overturn this prohibition, to no avail. The ministry responded that "a visit by the president of Equatorial Guinea is not being considered."
"Israel is doing him a major injustice," Ovadia said. "There are good relations be und, J'lem race tight tween the two countries. The president loves Israel but Israel doesn't return that love. The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, met with him, as did [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice. I hope Israel changes its treatment of him."
U.S. law enforcement agencies revealed several years ago that Obiang had an account at the Washington, D.C.-based Riggs Bank containing some $700 million. The account was frozen on suspicion of Obiang's having received bribes and been involved in corrupt activity surrounding his country's oil trade.