Thursday

12th Dec 2019

Investigation

British firm to guard EU diplomats in Beirut

  • G4S van in London. The firm also works with leading banks and sports events, such as the 2012 London Olympics (Photo: g4s.com)

The EU foreign service has hired British firm G4S to guard its diplomats in Lebanon, amid increasing sectarian violence.

The company, the world's largest private security firm, is to take over from the EU's current contractor, Argus, a small French business registered in Cyprus, on 1 September.

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The EU will pay G4S between €3 million and €5 million over the next four years.

Its job will be to look after the EU building in Achrafieh, a Christian district in downtown Beirut, to guard the homes of the 20-or-so expat staff who work there and to provide bodyguards for when they travel around or when EU visitors come to town.

The Argus-G4S handover comes at a time of escalating security problems.

Recent months have seen deadly clashes, including in Beirut, between Lebanese Sunni Muslims allied with rebels in neighbouring Syria and Lebanese Shia Muslims who back the Syrian regime.

In the latest incident, on Friday (9 August), a Lebanese Shia Muslim group calling itself Zuwwar al-Imam Rida kidnapped two Turkish pilots on the main road from Beirut's airport.

The EU last month annoyed the top Shia Muslim power in Lebanon, Hezbollah, by designating its military wing as a terrorist entity.

A Hezbollah-linked newspaper, Al Akhbar, later said EU soldiers in Unifil, the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, should see themselves as "operating behind enemy lines."

Two security contacts, who asked not to be named, told EUobserver the EU envoy in Lebanon, Angelina Eichhorst, also received personal threats.

But a spokesman for the European External Action Service (EEAS), Michael Mann, said he "cannot" confirm the information.

Meanwhile, G4S itself has a tricky image in the Arab world.

Libya last year denied it permission to guard EU diplomats in the country partly because G4S works for two Israeli detention centres, the Ofer prison and the SJ district police station, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Mann added that the EU is not concerned about G4S' Israeli link.

Olaf looks at Libya

G4S also lost the Libya job because the EU signed the contract despite the fact the firm had no Libyan permit.

The decision broke the EU's own tender rules and annoyed the Libyans, who said it violated their sovereignty.

The EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf, is currently investigating how come EU officials made the botched decision.

Olaf does not comment on ongoing probes.

But Mann told this website: "G4S Lebanon are not under any investigation and we have not been advised by Olaf of any reason not to allow G4S to tender [for other EU work]."

A spokesman for G4S, Piers Zangana, noted that it already has "valid licences" for the new EU contract in Lebanon.

Second chance

The EEAS on Thursday gave the British firm a second chance to enter the Libyan market under the EU flag by publishing a new tender for bodyguards in Tripoli and Benghazi.

The deal is worth between €12 million and €15 million.

Unlike the Lebanon tender, and unlike normal EU security postings, the Libya tender does not say that candidates must be registered as a security firm in Libya or hold a Libyan permit in order to be eligible.

In what may be a nod to last year's events, it adds, however: "The contracting authority reserves the right to revoke its award of the contract in the case that the authorities in the country of deployment object to the presence of the selected contractor."

If G4S gets Libya it will again push out Argus, which currently protects EU staff in the country.

EU men with guns: A comedy of errors

The EU foreign service just did a U-turn on a €50mn tender for bodyguards in Kabul, with leaked documents posing questions how a British firm with a frightening track record won it in the first place.

Privatising immigration

A growing number of EU countries use private security firms to guard migrant detention centres and handle visa applications, raising questions of accountability if things go wrong. EUobserver looks at the rise of a new European security industry.

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