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Controversial British firm wins EU security job in Gaza

  • Israeli bomb damage at UN-run school in Gaza from the eight-day war in 2012 (Photo: EUobserver)

The EU diplomatic service has confirmed that British company Page Protective Services (PPS) will guard its people in Gaza and the West Bank despite the firm's poor track record.

A note published on the EU's Tenders Electronic Daily website on Saturday (27 April) says PPS will be paid €13.4 million plus VAT to do the work over the next four years.

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The fee is almost double what was foreseen in the original tender, published last July, which said the contract would be worth between €6 million and €8 million.

The EU has 16 diplomatic staff and another 50 or so officials stationed in Jerusalem.

Their activities in the West Bank are considered to be fairly low risk.

But their occasional trips to Gaza, which hosts radical Islamist groups and which is prone to sudden eruptions of fighting with Israel, are more dangerous.

One EU diplomat recalled that his first-ever visit to the Gaza strip coincided with an Israeli air strike.

"Within hours of arriving, I found myself in a car holding a wounded man with blood everywhere. I had to ask myself the question there and then: am I really cut out for this?" he told this website.

Just two other security companies put in bids for the Gaza/West bank tender.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) said on Monday it was not ready to give an immediate comment on the PPS award.

But its decision caused surprise in the private security sector, given PPS' poor track record on EU contracts in Afghanistan and in Gaza/West Bank itself.

PPS has been guarding EU diplomats in Afghanistan since 2008 and did Gaza/West Bank between 2005 and 2010.

In Afghanistan, it failed to supply the right body armour and rifles to its guards for more than one year after the contract began.

It also failed to supply proof of work done for around €1 million worth of invoices and paid a €300,000 penalty in lieu of the full amount.

It was awarded a new contract for Afghanistan earlier this year, but then the EEAS changed its mind, saying PPS was non-compliant with the "necessary conditions."

In its past work in Gaza/West Bank, EU diplomats said its drivers did not know their way around Gaza and that they abused local Palestinian staff.

They also questioned its attempts to avoid paying social security contributions to Israel on the grounds that its Palestinian guards did not recognise Israeli sovereignty.

The then EU envoy to Jerusalem, Christian Berger, wrote in an internal letter in 2009 that he was "very concerned about their [PPS] actual performance" and that the firm's behaviour "has led to reputational damage for the commission," referring to the European Commission, which managed foreign delegations before the EEAS was created.

Berger repeated his criticism in 2010.

The EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf, in January this year also drafted a critical report on PPS' work in Afghanistan. The text is confidential, but the EEAS says Olaf found no evidence of fraud per se.

A second Olaf investigation into PPS past work in Gaza/West Bank is currently ongoing.

For his part, PPS chief Stuart Page told EUobserver by email on Tuesday that his firm is still in the running for the new Kabul tender.

"The EEAS has chosen to halt the procurement process for the award of a new contract in Afghanistan strictly in accordance with its procurement procedures. Those companies (including this company) which prequalified in June 2012 have been invited to participate in a negotiated procedure for the award of a new contract," he said.

He described PPS' relationship with the EU institutions over the past few years as "entirely professional and fair."

This story was updated on 30 April to add the comment by Page

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