Inside Intel Meanwhile, Back in Nigeria...

The country's president has fired four top army officers over alleged problems with weapons purchases. Once again, an Israeli arms dealer is reportedly involved

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
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Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

Several weeks ago, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan sacked the army's chief of staff, Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazau, and the commanders of the air force, navy and ground forces. They were dismissed after the local media - with documents to back the claim - reported suspicions that they had committed illegalities in arranging arms deals. The primary suspicion is that the three commanders showed favoritism toward certain companies and individuals when allocating contracts worth more than $1 billion to supply weapons and materiel to the Nigerian army.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, right, with military aides in a parade in the capital Abuja in July, 2010.Credit: Reuters

But on the margins of this ugly affair, Israel's name also appears. Once again, Israel and an Israeli arms dealer are involved in a scandal in Africa - one currently being investigated by the national security adviser, Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, among others.

The reports allege, inter alia, that some of the deals were fictitious. For instance, contracts were signed for unnecessary equipment like a simulator parts - at a time when the ground forces did not even possess such a device. In another case, a fictitious deal was allegedly signed for a shipment of parachutes.

Another charge is that faulty equipment, such as helicopters that were grounded because they weren't fit to fly, was purchased at an exorbitant price, while obsolete equipment was sometimes presented as new.

The main figures whose names have been cited in the press are the former president and retired general Ibrahim Babangida, who plans to run again for president in the elections to be held in January 2011, and the cabinet secretary, Yayale Ahmed, who is a former defense minister and is interested in running for governor of one of Nigeria's 36 states. The current president, Goodluck Jonathan, plans to run in next year's elections as well, so all of the claims and counterclaims should also be seen in the context of the upcoming race.

The media reports described Babangida and Yayale as the two largest suppliers of arms and military equipment to Nigeria's defense establishment in general and its armed forces in particular. Babangida, they added, is the secret owner of Suncraft, whose front man is the arms dealer Sami Haider, who is of Lebanese origin.

Another company mentioned in the story is Doiyatec Communications, owned by the Israeli arms dealer Amit Sade, who has been operating in Nigeria for years and is considered close to the leadership there. He is particularly known for his close ties with Yayale.

One investigative report stated that Sade serves as Yayale's "point man." Another report claimed that Doiyatec Communications is a conglomerate comprised of seven companies, and that Yayale is a partner in all or some of them.

Sade holds Israeli and German citizenship. He is approaching 40 and is considered a man of mystery. He is very protective of his privacy, dislikes public exposure and maintains few ties with other Israelis.

After his military service, he worked as a shooting instructor for an Israeli security consulting firm that trained security guards for oil facilities in Angola. From there, he went to Nigeria. Until a decade ago, he was seen as a small-scale security consultant.

He was also involved in the construction of a mall in Lagos together with Alon Nelkin, an Israeli who lived in Nigeria for years, as well as a few other not particularly large deals. The big turning point in his life came around six years ago, when, together with Nelkin, he brokered a huge deal worth $250 million: a sale of drones and unmanned boats made by Aeronautics Defense Systems of Yavneh (Sade and Nelkin have since parted ways due to a dispute ). The deal was reported in Haaretz, and that led to complications.

First, an investigation was opened in Nigeria into suspicions that then-president Olusegun Obasanjo, who hastily approved the deal ahead of an election, had received kickbacks. Next, Nigerian Col. Paul Edor Obi sued Sade, Doiyatec Communications and Avi Leumi, Aeronautics' CEO and also one of its shareholders, in a Nigerian court to demand commissions of $3 million for his involvement in the deal.

The controversial deal also sparked a crisis between Leumi and his partner, the Indian arms dealer Chaudry (known as the rabbit ), which degenerated into reciprocal lawsuits. But their conflict was ultimately settled through mediation. Chaudry, who promotes arms sales in India for most of Israel's defense industries, sold his share of Aeronautics to the Shaked brothers, the owners of a gambling site in Gibraltar.

Since then, Sade has increased his business in Nigeria and been involved in several large arms deals. One was the sale of two Shaldag boats made by Israel Shipyards to the Nigerian navy for $25 million - more than double the cost of these ships, which is an estimated $10 million combined. The Nigerians later claimed they were promised new boats, but instead received used ones from the Israeli navy surplus that had been upgraded.

Israel Shipyards CEO Avi Sharf, when asked about it by Haaretz around a year ago, declined to comment.

Avi Leumi said that since 2006, Aeronautics has not been operating in Nigeria. "I don't want any business in that country, and especially now that I am required to adhere to all the OECD's strict rules," he said.

These rules, which Israel has enacted into law, forbid companies to pay bribes to promote business. But in Nigeria, which is considered one of the world's most corrupt countries, there is scarcely a deal, whether civilian or military, that does not entail bribes being paid to senior government figures, bureaucrats or army officers.

Amit Sade, reached in Nigeria, denied all the Nigerian media's accusations against him and said they stem from the upcoming election campaign. He added that he owns Doiyatec Communications and Yayale is not a partner in the company.

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