Guinea: Inside Intel / Bloody business in Africa

israel ziv

Yossi Melman

Haaretz — Israël — December 31, 2009

The Defense Ministry is investigating suspicions that Maj. Gen. (ret.) Israel Ziv, his company CTS Global and his business partners have broken the law regarding military exports.

The investigations unit of the security division of the ministry, the export supervisory wing, and the ministry's legal advisor are involved in the probe, which has one main focus: the suspicion that Ziv signed a $10 million contract to train and supply Guinea's army without first obtaining the proper permits.

The story of Ziv's involvement and that of his partners and other Israelis (including former Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami and former Tel Aviv police commander David Tzur) in Guinea appeared in Haaretz in Hebrew last Friday.

Ziv and Tzur became involved in Guinea following a military coup d'etat by Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, who took power in December 2008 after the death of previous ruler Lansana Conte. Camara, who suspended the constitution, clamped down on freedoms in the country and would later be a victim of a failed assassination attempt by one of his generals.

Wary of both his gendarmerie and the old presidential guard, Camara began looking for a security expert who would train his own guard of loyalists.

Mining contracts

Guinea, located on the west coast of Africa, is rich in diamonds, iron ore, bauxite, uranium and salt mines. Since achieving independence in 1959, it has been controlled by corrupt dictators.

Although there are no official diplomatic ties with the country, some Israelis frequent Guinea for business, including international diamond dealer Benny Steinmetz, whose company, BSGR, received a concession to mine iron ore in the country. Steinmetz has received further concessions from Camara.

To consolidate his influence in Guinea, Steinmetz took former prime minister Ehud Olmert with him during one of his visits to the capital Conakry, where they met with Camara. Against that background, stories were reported in the international press that Steinmetz was involved in bringing Israeli military experts, led by Ziv, into Guinea. Steinmetz denied the stories and threatened to sue any media outlets which printed them.

Olmert ignored the foreign ministry's advice not to travel to Guinea, which is under sanctions imposed by the European Union and African nations.

The truth is that it was not Steinmetz that paved the way for Ziv, but Israeli Victor Kenan, who has lived in Guinea for several years.

In March 2009 Ziv and some of his people went to Guinea, met the president and convinced him to grant them a contract to establish and train his new presidential guard and arm it with more sophisticated equipment. Before he went to Guinea, Ziv approached the Defense Ministry and requested permission to contract with Guinea to train forced there.

Ziv and Tzur told Haaretz that they had all necessary papers from the Defense Ministry in hand, and as soon as the ministry ordered them to cease their involvement, they did so immediately. But sources in the defense and foreign ministries are offering a different version of events. Ziv approached the Defense Ministry, as required by law, and requested permission to conduct negotiations with Guinea to train military forces there. But the ministry refused to grant permission, only allowing for Ziv to carry out a preliminary survey in which the exporter could hear out the customer's needs, though he could not discuss a deal or suggest prices.

According to the information that reached the foreign and defense ministries, Ziv did not make do with a survey, but conducted negotiations and signed a contract according to which Global would supply two services to Guinea.

‘Strategic’ workshops

The first was the establishment and equipping of the presidential guard unit, and a larger force composed of members of the president's tribal loyalists.

The other element of the contract was that Global would teach Guinean decision-makers in a ‘strategic’ workshop, for the stated purpose of increasing awareness of democratic values. Responsibility for the workshops was to have been placed in the hands of former foreign minister Ben-Ami and former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh.

Later on, Ben Ami and Ziv sent former MK and former ambassador to France Nissim Zvili to Guinea to survey the country for the possibility of introducing democracy.

When asked by Haaretz why a security consultant like Ziv would send him for such a mission he replied, “I was told that Ziv is a political adviser to the Guinean president.”

The contract between Global and Guinea bears the date May 4.

Global representatives claimed to the foreign and defense ministries that they were not forbidden to negotiate and sign a contract at that time.

Both state offices think otherwise, and say that Ziv and his people were forbidden to do so.

UN investigation

In September, the president's soldiers slaughtered demonstrators who had gathered in the soccer stadium in Conakry. According to human rights organizations, 157 people were killed in the massacre, dozens of women were raped by soldiers and hundreds of demonstrators were beaten. The French government and the United Nations approached Israel with a request to examine the involvement of Israeli military advisors in Guinea.

Three days after the slaughter, Ziv, Ben-Ami and Sneh held a discussion with deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and other senior officials in the ministry.

Veteran officials at the ministry were especially surprised by Ben-Ami's participation in the session.

“We couldn't believe that a social democrat sensitive to the matter of human rights would be involved in this type of situation, and even more so, in a country like Guinea,” one of them said.

The three tried to overturn the decision not to allow any security-related exports to Guinea.

“If we had been there, we could have prevented the massacre,” they claimed.

The discussion became heated when Ayalon rejected their assertion that they were working for Israel's interests, and supported the professional ranks of the ministry. Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon confirmed to Haaretz that “It was a difficult meeting, but I don't comment on matters of private business in foreign countries.”

A month ago the Foreign Ministry lodged a complaint against Global with the Defense Ministry's enforcement committee, whose role is to decide how to deal with someone who breaks the law and bypasses export permissions. At their disposal are reprimands, the imposition of fines or transfer of the matter to a police investigation, if a criminal offense is suspected.

At the Defense Ministry, a decision has not yet been made, and they are continuing to investigate the matter.

The Defense Ministry spokesman responded to an inquiry by Haaretz that “the ministry is prohibited from releasing details about enforcement activities it takes in the case of one exporter or another.”

Global said in response that as far as it knows, there is no investigation. Rather, they say, it is a technical process of clarification regarding business norms and they add they are cooperating with the process.