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4th Apr 2020

Question marks over EU contract for Libya security firm

  • EEAS chief Catherine Ashton with bodyguards in Benghazi last year (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The European External Action Service (EEAS) has awarded a juicy contract to British security firm G4S in Libya despite the fact it has no permission to work there.

The €10 million contract covers bodyguards and building security for the EU's Tripoli and Benghazi delegations for the next four years starting 1 June. EEAS officials also signed an end-user agreement for the company to import assault rifles and 9mm pistols.

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It took the steps despite the fact G4S has no permission from the National Transitional Council (NTC), the internationally recognised post-war authority in Libya, to operate on its territory.

EEAS spokesman Michael Mann and G4S spokesman Adam Mynott confirmed the company has no NTC authorisation. They told EUobserver that permission is not needed because there is no relevant law in Libya until a new government makes one after upcoming elections.

"From the information we gathered in Libya, mainly through our delegation, there is no condition to get a 'non-objection' before granting a contract to a company. There is no law in Libya which regulates the operation of foreign security service companies," Mann said.

The line clashes with a statement by the NTC's ambassador to the EU, however.

Mohamed Farhat told this website on 2 May that the EEAS asked him in April to arrange a G4S permit. He noted that authorities in Tripoli are examining the request but have not made up their mind yet.

"The Libyan government is the one who says Yes or No if there is to be any security company to provide security services ... We are a sovereign state and we say Yes or No," Farhat said.

The EEAS-G4S line also clashes with the EU's own tender documents.

The invitation to tender sent out on 13 January states: "The winning tenderer must provide before signature of the specific contract the evidence that either he or his local partner is duly registered and has a licence to operate as a security provider in Libya."

Two other firms which put in a bid, Canada's GardaWorld and the Hungarian-based Argus, do have Libyan or "local" partner companies and related NTC permits.

The head of GardaWorld's Brussels office, Didier Ranchon, said: "We are very surprised and very disappointed ... if Argus had won the bid we would not have anything [negative] to say."

Ranchon noted that apart from the permit question, GardaWorld and Argus were better candidates because they already operate in Libya. GardaWorld works for the British foreign office in Tripoli, as well as oil firms Repsol and Total and engineering giant Siemens. Argus currently does EEAS security in Libya.

In a further irregularity, the EEAS contract was originally to start on 1 April. But officials gave G4S leeway to start on 1 June because it is not ready.

Its suitability is under a question mark for political reasons as well.

G4S works for the Israeli government, providing what it calls "security systems maintenance" for the SJ District police station and for the Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank.

The Ofer prison is currently in the headlines because of a mass hunger strike by Palestinian detainees who are being held without trial, making G4S into a potential target for Arab hostility in the region. In a sign of historic sensitivities on the issue, an extant Libyan law from 1957 forbids foreign firms who operate in Israel from doing business in Libya.

The EEAS denied giving G4S preferential treatment. "The contract was awarded to the company that performed best in a competitive tender procedure, fully in line with the requirements of the financial regulation [EU tender rules]," Mann said.

On the Israeli question, G4S' Mynott said: "That doesn't particularly concern us."

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