The 2012 sale of seven decommissioned Norwegian naval vessels took a curious turn when a report revealed that they were serving, two years later, in the private flotilla of a former Nigerian rebel. The news about the six demilitarized missile torpedo boats and one naval support vessel, the former KNM Horten, triggered an investigation that led to the conviction in May 2017 of one Norwegian official on bribery charges and the revelation of the role played by a UK intermediary, CAS-Global Ltd. The firm applied for export licenses in Norway and for a re-export license for the Horten from the UK, telling the Norwegians that the ships would support an ECOWAS mission and the British that they were intended for use by the Nigerian government. In fact, the vessels would be passed on to Global West Vessel Specialist Ltd. (GWVSL), a private firm likely controlled by the former Nigerian rebel Government Ekpemupolo, which had obtained a maritime law enforcement contract from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). In 2016, after a change in government in Nigeria, the GWVSL fleet was seized and its controllers charged with conspiring with NIMASA officials to embezzle funds.
Government Ekpemupolo (aka Tompolo) – former leader in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, accepted amnesty in 2009; since 2016 wanted for theft and money laundering of up to USD 171 million, but acquitted in July 2020.
Bjørn Stavrum – an orlogskaptein (OF-3, Lt. Cdr.-equivalent) of the Norwegian Navy assigned to the Norwegian Defense Logistics Organization; received around USD 242,000 in bribes from CAS-Global Ltd. to approve the sale. Convicted of corruption-related offenses and sentenced to four years and eight months in prison; the Norwegian Supreme Court later increased his sentence to life imprisonment.
Patrick Akpobolokemi – director-general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency; suspected of embezzling funds but acquitted by an appeals court in June 2018.
Stuart MacGregor – CAS-Global Ltd. director who signed on behalf of the company for purchase of the ship
Summary of Corruption Allegationscontents
The sale of these seven Norwegian ships to GWVSL was abetted by the corruption of an official at the Norwegian Defense Logistics Organization (DLO), which handled the sales, and became the vehicle for suspected embezzlement from the Nigerian treasury. UK officials are investigating whether CAS-Global Ltd., a British firm, or its owners may be liable for conduct related to the transactions.
One month before it signed a contract for the six missile torpedo boats, CAS-Global deceptively informed Norwegian officials that: the vessels would be owned by CAS-Global; further re-sale would be subject to UK export control regulations; the vessels would be deployed primarily in an ECOWAS mission, providing a fisheries protection “package” of services; and the vessels would remain UK-flagged and therefore operate under UK jurisdiction. Likewise, the DLO passed on similar deceptive information to the Norwegian foreign ministry regarding the end-use of the KNM Horten. This deception may have been intended to ensure that Norway’s catch-all dual-use export regulations would not prevent the sale of the ships. Presumably to cover this deception, CAS-Global paid bribes totaling approximately USD 242,000 to Bjørn Stavrum, a Navy Lieutenant Commander assigned to the DLO, in three payments over the course of 2013-14.
There were many signs that the vessels would, in fact, pass to private Nigerian hands. These included: the May 2012 visit by GWVSL and NIMASA executives to inspect the six missile torpedo boats; modification work on the boats that suggested they would be operated by GWVSL; the involvement of a Nigerian bank and loan paperwork which suggested GWVSL’s involvement; and, most importantly, an alert to Norwegian customs officials from their British counterparts highlighting press reports on the potentially corrupt relationship between NIMASA and GWVSL. Since 2012, the Nigerian press had been reporting irregularities in GWVSL’s contracts with NIMASA, as well as the possibility that the former rebel leader Government Ekpemupolo (better known as Tompolo) was the beneficial owner of GWVSL. Tompolo, an ethnic Ijaw from a politically connected family in Nigeria’s Delta State, was a leader in the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC) during an inter-ethnic conflict with the neighboring Itsekiri ethnic group during the late 1990s. Between 2006 and 2009, a number of Ijaw militias formed the loosely coordinated Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which attacked and kidnapped oil workers, seeking to wrest control of the oil industry from the central government’s authority. As a MEND leader, Tompolo obtained an amnesty from the government in 2009 along with up to 26,000 other militants, ending the worst of the oil attacks. According to a Nigerian prosecutor, Tompolo subsequently benefitted from lucrative contracts obtained through his connections in government.
In ignoring the potential risks of a sale of ex-military vessels to GWVSL, Norway and the United Kingdom were downplaying the possibility that Tompolo might challenge the government again. Since disappearing in 2015 in the face of a corruption investigation, Tompolo has been suspected of returning to militant ways. Attacks against oil workers in the Delta have continued under the leadership of a new coalition, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). Certain NDA factions have claimed—without evidence—that Tompolo has supported their activities. In September 2016, Tompolo’s 84-year-old father was killed in a government raid in the delta city of Warri, prompting the militant-in-hiding to threaten revenge against the military.
- MayGlobal West Vessel Specialist Ltd. (GWVSL), a Nigerian maritime security contractor, received a contract worth NGN (Nigerian naira) 49.7 million per month (approximately USD 320,000 per month) to provide five patrol vessels to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
- NovGlobal West Vessel received a ten-year contract worth NGN 16 billion (USD 103.4 million) to provide a “platform for tracking ships and cargoes, enforce regulatory compliance and surveillance of the entire Nigerian maritime domain.” With these two awards in hand, GWVSL set out to build up its littoral fleet.
- Beginning in 2008, the Norwegian navy had begun to sell of a number of vessels that were surplus to requirements, including six Hauk-class missile torpedo boats, as well as the KNM Horten, a large naval support vessel. While the vessels had been demilitarized and therefore were not considered defense exports for Norwegian export licensing purposes, they were still subject to “catch-all” provisions in Norwegian regulations, intended to control dual-use goods.
- FebCAS-Global signed a contract to purchase the six missile torpedo boats for a price of GBP 2.7 million (approximately USD 4.25 million); after a May visit to the ships by GWVSL and NIMASA executives
- AugThe sale was finalized.
- OctCAS-Global also agreed to purchase the KNM Horten for USD 7.75 million.
- The six missile torpedo boats sailed in two groups to the United Kingdom and then onward to Nigeria, arriving in May and December 2013. According to reporting by the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, they were re-armed with 20-mm Oerlikon autocannons.
- FebThe KNM Horten left Norway in February 2014 and spent most of the year in the United Kingdom awaiting a re-export license and certification of compliance with maritime regulations.
- DecThe KNM Horten arrived in Nigeria in December 2014. The ships were then transferred to the control of GWVSL.
- JanFollowing an investigation by the state anti-corruption agency, Økokrim, Bjørn Stavrum was indicted on corruption charges in January 2015. In the indictment, prosecutors argued that Stavrum had played a key role in preventing the Norwegian foreign ministry from understanding the diversion risks associated with the sale of the vessels.
- MayA Norwegian parliamentary inquiry reported back in May 2016, criticizing a sales-first culture at the DLO the inappropriateness of the demilitarization process and designation, and weaknesses in the end-user certification requirement.
- MayStavrum was convicted in May 2017 and sentenced to four years and eight months in prison.
- In the United Kingdom, the City of London’s Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit has been investigating CAS-Global’s role in the deal in partnership with Økokrim. As of May 2017, four people have been arrested but none have yet been charged. There is no criminal investigation, however, of actions by UK officials in authorizing the re-export of the ships after they arrived in the United Kingdom. According to a report by Corruption Watch UK, based on CAS-Global’s export license application and intra-governmental communications released under the UK’s Freedom of Information system, as well as communications with government officials, the six missile torpedo boats were likely miscategorized as non-controlled goods in transit. The KNM Horten, in contrast, earned an export license following superficial review by the UK Export Control Organisation and with only last-minute input from the UK mission in Nigeria. Government documents obtained by Corruption Watch indicate that the license was approved by a junior official and that, after the approval came under increased scrutiny, superiors decided to adopt a high standard of proof for reversing the decision. Corruption Watch argues that this review should have concluded that the re-export application did not satisfy the requirements of the UK’s Consolidated Criteria and should have been rejected.
- Tompolo remains a wanted man in Nigeria, and is suspected of fraud and money-laundering by the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The allegations against Tompolo also implicated Patrick Akpobolokemi, who was director-general of NIMASA when he visited the six missile torpedo boats in May 2012 with GWVSL executives. Nigerian newspapers reported that, despite GWVSL’s contracts stipulating that it would be reimbursed for its services through collection of fees on behalf of the state, NIMASA had nonetheless transferred large sums of money to the firm. The EFCC’s investigation received a blow in June 2018 when an appeals court dismissed fraud-related charges against Akpobolokemi. Five other co-conspirators remain on trial, however.
Banner Image: Image Caption: A Norwegian Navy Hauk-class missile torpedo boat at sea in April 2008.
Image Source: Flickr/Creative Commons, Jon-Arne Belsaas
The main source for this overview is the Corruption Watch UK report: Margot Gibbs, Paul Holden and Susan Hawley, “Dereliction of Duty: How Weak Arms Export Licence Controls in the UK Facilitated Corruption and Exacerbated Instability in the Niger Delta,” Corruption Watch UK, May 2017, https://www.cw-uk.org/dereliction-of-duty.
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