From arms to riches: the rise of James Fenech

From a shop in Mellieha’s Parish Square, which neighbours say is known for providing shooting gear to local hunters, James Fenech went on to become one of the EU’s key arms dealers.

He was charged last Friday with violating Libya sanctions, exporting two military-grade Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) to Libya in breach of sanctions.

Research by The Shift shows that the ‘hunters’ shop’ now forms part of a mega international business group owned by Fenech and which, over the past few years, particularly since Libya’s uprising, has become one of the EU’s most important arms dealers.

Starting humbly in 1995, Fieldsports – the hunters’ shop – which still describes itself on its website as a shop for ‘shooting sports and the outdoor life’, was transformed by Fenech and his associates, mostly foreign, into a huge network of arms dealership and supplies, among other things.

Fenech moved on from his humble beginnings, establishing his umbrella organisation – Unified Global Services Group Ltd, set up in 2014. Through a number of companies he set up, he diversified from hunting gear to arms supplies and recently also road construction.

International sources describe Fenech as ‘a force to be reckoned with’, especially in the supply of arms and heavy artillery to dangerous conflict zones, mostly in Africa and particularly Libya. Fenech also opened a representative office in Djibouti’s free zone, from where he operates his logistics hub for African ‘supplies’.

Though many who know Fenech have questioned his sudden source of wealth and exponential business growth within a short period, he has never really been exposed for any wrongdoing, at least officially. But last Friday something changed.

Source: Malta Business Registry.

Fenech was taken to court with four of his employees who are still unnamed. They are accused of breaching sanctions through one of his companies, Sovereign Charterers, during an operation off Libya’s coast last summer.

The police arraigned Fenech and his employees in an empty courtroom without the presence of journalists due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Fenech and his employees denied the accusations and were given bail by Magistrate Victor Asciak. Fenech is insisting that the police’s charges relate to fully authorised operations and that his group will have the opportunity to ‘clear its name’.

Fenech’s work has repeatedly made international headlines. His organisation made its mark in recent years supplying weapons to private security firms working for the EU, partnering also with Erik Prince, a former US Navy SEAL officer and the founder of Blackwater – a controversial US private military company that was given unclassified security contracts from the CIA during the Iraq war.

The company was banned from Iraq after its personnel opened fire on civilians at a busy traffic thoroughfare. The company has since been sold and its name changed to Academi.

Currently, Fenech’s Fieldsports has a quasi-monopoly in supplying armaments to EU companies, being one of the very few suppliers in the EU accredited to sell lethal weapons on EU soil for private users, according to reports prepared for the European Parliament.

Mega firms, such as Garda and Amarante International, turn to Fieldsports when they need to order weapons for armed guards deployed to protect EU embassies.

Sovereign Charterers, one of Fenech’s companies allegedly involved in sanctions-busting, provides ships to the oil industry and to government patrol vessels.

Other companies controlled by Fenech, Strategic Supplies and REA Malta, take care of logistics for various UN agencies and NGOs in hostile environments.

James Fenech.

James Fenech with Nicola Baldini, his partner in Blackwater Ammunition.

In 2018, Fenech partnered with Italian Nicola Bandini to launch Blackwater Ammunition, which produces ammunition for assault rifles as a well as watches and various other products sold under the Blackwater brand, according to its website.

Blackwater Ammunition is owned by PBM Limited, registered at the same Maltese address as the small Mellieha hunter’s shop, now part of Fenech’s conglomerate.

Lately, Fenech set his eyes on lucrative Malta government road contracts, partnering with Gozitan construction mogul Joseph Portelli and Turkish associates. Fenech’s ‘consortium’ has already tendered successfully for over €60 million of road building contracts.

                           
                               
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