Advocacy group exposes illicit arms deal in South Sudan

JUBA – A British-based company acted as an intermediary in huge prospective arms deals to war-torn South Sudan and other countries, Amnesty International said in a report.

The deals, it said, was facilitated by regulatory gaps, which makes the UK a hotspot for companies involved in illicit arms transfers.

According to the UK-based advocacy group, commercial documents named S-Profit Ltd, a tiny UK-registered company, as the ‘supplier’ in a 2014 deal to provide at least US$46m worth of small arms, light weapons and ammunition to South Sudan government.

“South Sudan is awash with weapons that have been used to kill and maim thousands of civilians, causing Africa’s biggest refugee crisis. The UK government has been a vocal proponent of a UN arms embargo on South Sudan, yet is turning a blind eye to illegal deals taking place right under its nose,” said James Lynch, Amnesty International’s Head of Arms Control and Human Rights.

Entitled “From London to Juba: a UK-registered company’s role in one of the largest arms deals to South Sudan”, the report claims the UK government has been aware of similar practices taking place on its soil for over eight years, without taking effective regulatory action.

It says, “Glaring gaps in UK company regulation mean a dealer of illicit arms can go online and set up a UK company to front its activities with fewer checks than joining a gym or hiring a car. The UK must urgently review its company registration procedures – right now it provides the perfect conditions to become a hotspot for the kind of irresponsible arms transfers that have devastated South Sudan.”

The weapons in question, Amnesty International said, form part of a previously undisclosed 2014 contract between a Ukrainian state arms company and a UAE-based company to procure US$169m of weapons on behalf of South Sudan. These include thousands of machine guns, mortars, RPGs and millions of rounds of ammunition.

The deal, it said, constitutes one of the largest publicly disclosed arms transfers to South Sudan since the outbreak of fighting in 2013.

Meanwhile, the UK-based advocacy group said it has not been able to determine whether some or all of the weapons listed in these documents have been delivered to the war-torn East African nation.

The involvement of the Ukrainian state-owned arms company and a UAE private company in weapons supplies to South Sudan also potentially contravenes the Ukraine and UAE’s obligations as signatories to the Arms Trade Treaty, Amnesty International stated.

S-Profit Ltd officials reportedly declined to comment on the armed deal matter.

Amnesty International said it provided UK authorities with the documents and information it has obtained. The report also reveals that the UK government has, for more than eight years, been aware of UK shell companies being used unlawfully as contract vehicles for weapons dealers to supply arms to human rights violators and embargoed destinations including Syria, Eritrea and South Sudan.

The UK government reportedly failed to take meaningful enforcement action against companies involved, despite powers under UK company and insolvency law designed to allow the government to wind up companies acting unlawfully or fraudulently.

“S-Profit Ltd’s company filings give no indication of its involvement in the arms trade – but then UK law does not require them to. This kind of weak regulation is seriously undermining the other robust domestic, EU and international controls which should make any UK involvement in arms transfers to a war zone like South Sudan unimaginable,” stressed Lynch.

“If they have not already reached South Sudan, these deliveries must be halted,” he added.

The advocacy group, in the report, called for a comprehensive UN arms embargo on South Sudan that includes any brokering, financial or logistical activities that would facilitate these kinds of transfers.

“Without an embargo, weapons will continue to flow into South Sudan, and the consequences for civilians will continue to be catastrophic,” further said Lynch.

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