Politics, Legislation and Economy News

World News :  Wars and Rumors  of War /  Human Rights

Post image for Australian accused of funding Saracen and Sterling Corporate Mercenaries in Somalia


The Somalia Monitoring Group has identified a complex web of companies, called Saracen and Sterling Corporate Services, that were hired to train and equip the largest militia group in Somalia.

Matt Bryden, who heads the monitoring group, found the companies’ operations were shrouded in mystery.

“Most of the requests the monitoring group made for information about what supplies were being brought into the country, the nature of the program, Saracen either failed or refused to answer,” he said.

“There were a number of large shipments of military assistance for the force, and Saracen never sought to explain what these shipments were for to the monitoring group.”

The men behind Saracen and Sterling are mostly former South African mercenaries and prominent among them is Mr Lafras Luitingh.

He is a former member of special forces in the apartheid-era South African defence force and went on to join a notorious covert unit known as the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB).

The CCB was responsible for a campaign of bombings and assassinations of political opponents of the apartheid regime.

During hearings of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Mr Luitingh was named as the handler for a CCB assassin.

The assassin was jailed for life, after shooting dead an anti-apartheid campaigner in Johannesburg.

After the collapse of apartheid, Mr Luituingh and some of his former colleagues went on to form the infamous guns-for-hire outfit known as Executive Outcomes.

“Executive Outcomes is a private military company that hires mercenaries,” Mr Vines said.

“It used people who had been very active in the apartheid system in South Africa to provide security services across Africa.”

Mr Vines says he has studied Executive Outcomes in depth.

“Mr Luitingh has been involved with Executive Outcomes right from the very beginning, as a key fighter and officer,” he said.

“He was active in Angola and Sierra Leone. In fact, he was the one who did the entry negotiations for Sandline into Sierra Leone.”

PNG involvement

A few years later, Mr Luitingh offered his company’s services to help secure one of the largest copper mines in the world, in Papua New Guinea.

The PNG government had been fighting a protracted conflict with rebels, which had shut down the giant Panguna copper project.

In 1997, they struck a secret deal to bring in foreign mercenaries. It became known as the Sandline affair, after one of the companies involved when the deal became public.

It brought down the PNG government and Mr Luitingh’s men were held under house arrest.

At the height of the saga, Mr Luitingh spoke with the ABC’s 7.30 program:

Kerry O’Brien: Lafras Luitingh, you’ve been in contact with your personnel in Wewak. Are you concerned about their safety?

Lafras Luitingh: Yeah, I am concerned about their safety, and obviously I don’t know precisely what’s going on, and seeing that they are my people, we are concerned about their safety.

We are not there to upset the politics, we are there to provide a service and we will give that service, a professional service, and if the people of PNG or whoever do not want us there, then we will leave immediately.

The mercenaries were eventually expelled from PNG, but Mr Luitingh made a lot of money.

“His name also appeared on a bank account in Hong Kong where the PNG government deposited $US13 million as part of the payment for that particular contract,” Mr Vines said.

“This is normal, standard kind of practice for these types of companies. Different accounts are opened and used for different transactions, it’s all about maximising the financial flow… These are definitely not transparent organisations.”

‘Financial hub’

Mr Luitingh is using a string of companies registered around the world, but according to UN investigators, Australia plays a central part in their operations.

The sanctions are about a country that already has far too many weapons, it’s about stopping them from reaching Somalia, and also denying military training.

Alex Vines

Australian records show Mr Luitingh registered the company – Australian African Global Investments – in 2006.

It has branches in South Africa, Uganda and other African countries and is involved in logistics, transport and chartering planes and ships.

The Australian company was registered by Taurus Financial Services in Sydney.

Mr Luitingh’s connection to Australia runs deeper. The ABC has learned that in June 2009 he was granted Australian citizenship.

“I would hope that the Australian authorities would be able to demonstrate on what criteria it was that Lafras got Australian citizenship,” Mr Vines said.

“Was there an investigation of his past, especially his time back in South Africa during the apartheid period?”

According to the UN report, Mr Luitingh is “using Australia as a financial hub for money transfers… in connection with his activities in Somalia”.

They state around $2 million has moved through his corporate and personal accounts in Australia since the project started.