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Zambia arrests ex-defence officials over corrupt deals with Israeli arms company

December 22, 2022 at 3:42 pm

Israeli defence contractor Elbit [MilborneOne/Wikipedia]

Zambian authorities have arrested four former Defence Ministry officials over a corruption scandal involving one of Israel’s top arms companies.

According to a statement tweeted by Zambia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) last week, the former officials were arrested on suspicion of corruption in deals worth $500 million with Israeli defence contractor Elbit Systems.

“The Anti-Corruption Commission has arrested former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defense Stardy Mwale for corrupt practices involving more than U.S. $573.9 million in relation to the procurement of the Gulfstream G650 Presidential Jet,” the statement said.

Purchased in 2019 by previous President Edgar Lungu, the presidential jet was outfitted with an anti-missile defence system known as Elbit J-Music, which caused it to be bought at an extortionate amount of money for the cash-strapped country and became a huge political scandal.

According to the current Defence Minister, Ambrose Lufuma, the Gulfstream “was purchased at an exorbitant price of $194.9 million inclusive of the accessories”, stating that the Zambian government is attempting to sell the plane and replace it with a cheaper one.

Lufuma also said that the plane and its accessories were seemingly purchased by the former president at a higher price than they should have been, with the plane itself having cost $20 million more than its actual price, and the J-Music defence system bought at $50 million – $45 million more than its price of $5 million.

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The ACC’s statement stressed that as the chairman of the ministry’s procurement committee, Mwale failed to comply with proper procedure and was charged with fraud and other violations regarding three contracts with Elbit Systems “for goods and services not supplied in full”.

Those contracts consist of a $400 million deal to modernise the Zambian armed forces, a $124 million contract between Elbit and a local defence company, and another contract with Elbit worth $50 million.

The $400 million to modernise Zambia’s armed forces, which really went to pay for the plane, was provided by the Israel Discount Bank in the form of a loan. That, as well as a spate of other defence deals with Israeli companies, came after former president Lungu’s 2017 visit to Israel in which he met with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to the statement, three other former senior Defence Ministry officials – including the former chief accountant – were also arrested, before all four of the detained were released on bail and are soon to be brought before a judge.

In response to the Zambian government and the ACC’s request for information, Elbit claimed that it “does not correspond to reality, to say the least. Elbit has a compliance and enforcement system on the subject, which meets the highest criteria, and will not lend its hand to corruption and bribery, not even indirectly.”

It added: “To the best of our knowledge, the integrity of the interaction was examined by the Zambian authorities and no fault was found in the conduct of Elbit and no blame was placed on Elbit. With the publication of the news about allegedly improper procedures in Zambia, we launched a comprehensive investigation while monitoring the foreign publications and the parties involved in the publication.”