Dereliction of Duty: How Weak Arms Export Licence Controls in the UK Facilitated Corruption and Exacerbated Instability in the Niger Delta

In the summer of 2014, the UK government approved the export of the KNM Horten, a large former Norwegian naval vessel, by a UK company, CAS-Global, to Nigeria.  The boats ended up in the hands of Global West Vessel Services, a company reportedly controlled by the former Nigerian warlord Tompolo.

Documents released to Corruption Watch show that UK authorities, in approving the licence application, ignored obvious warning signs pointing to major problems in the deal. The licence was approved by Sir Vince Cable, the Minister then in charge of overseeing arms export licence applications.

Since the approval of the export licence in June 2014, formal legal proceedings have been launched against the parties involved in three jurisdictions. In Norway, an official overseeing the sale of the ex-military boats to CAS-Global is currently facing corruption charges. He is accused of taking over $150 000  from CAS-Global to help it disguise the ultimate destination (Nigeria) of the Horten and six smaller vessels from Norwegian authorities. In the UK, three British nationals have been arrested, and the City of London police have confirmed that their investigations now also includes looking into bribery in Nigeria. In Nigeria, the contract that the Horten helped to fulfill made headline news after charges were brought alleging that it provided the cover for the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from Nigerian state coffers.

New documents obtained by Corruption Watch show that the licence application by CAS-Global created considerable concern among those who were charged with assessing it. But that concern did not stop the UK government approving the licence.  Corruption Watch believes that the UK government made serious mistakes in the assessment and failed to properly apply its own arms export rules, and, in so doing, helped to facilitate a contract mired in controversy.

In April 2017, the UK government responded to queries about the export of the Horten in a letter to the Labour MP Roger Godsiff. It stated that it was happy that the export of the Horten was done correctly and that the arms export licence process had been followed to the letter. It also, however, confirmed that corruption is considered very narrowly in assessing arms export applications in a way that almost certainly undermines the anti-corruption programmes of other UK government departments such as DFID.

Corruption Watch’s new report, available below, not only tells the full sorry story of alleged corruption and lies that underpinned the deal, but shows that the UK’s arms export regime is worryingly flawed, and makes clear recommendations as to how the UK government can go about fixing it.