US auditor probes Col Tim Spicer's £160m Iraqi deal

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The Independent Online

A £160m Iraq security contract won by Colonel Tim Spicer - the former Guards officer in the "arms to Africa" scandal - is being investigated by a senior US auditor.

A £160m Iraq security contract won by Colonel Tim Spicer - the former Guards officer in the "arms to Africa" scandal - is being investigated by a senior US auditor.

The inquiry was launched after a little known firm run by Col Spicer, who ran the Sandline mercenary company that tried to break a UN arms embargo on Sierra Leone in 1998, landed one of the largest private security contracts let by the US government in Iraq.

The $293m (£160m) deal - which is also the second largest won by a British firm in Iraq - shocked the security industry and provoked legal challenges from one of the largest US security companies involved in Iraq, DynCorp.

Col Spicer's firm, Aegis Defence Services, was set up less than two years ago and includes novelist Frederick Forsyth as an investor. It lost £378,000 last year, while claiming to have net assets of just under £785,000.

However, Aegis landed the contract to provide 75 "close protection" bodyguard teams to coalition and Iraqi officials for the next three years, and to co-ordinate intelligence-gathering for other private security firms in Iraq - including DynCorp.

Following mounting pressure from within the industry, the Inspector General appointed by the Pentagon to oversee Iraq's multi-billion dollar reconstruction contracts, Stuart Bowen, has begun an "audit" into the Aegis contract.

Mr Bowen, who is based in Virginia, is investigating how and why the US Army gave Col Spicer the contract. The audit - requested by a senior US diplomat in Baghdad - will "evaluate procedures" used to "plan the acquisition, select the source and negotiate the contract," Mr Bowen said in his latest quarterly report.

A spokeswoman for Aegis said: "If anyone lodges a protest to a contract then [the Coalition Provisional Authority] is obliged to investigate."

Mr Bowen's is the third inquiry launched into the deal. Spurred on by DynCorp's complaints, the US General Accounting Office - a powerful government spending watchdog - and the Pentagon are also looking into the contract.

It is the latest in a series of controversies over Col Spicer's business dealings. During the Sandline affair, an official inquiry was ordered into claims that a senior British diplomat - and other Foreign Office officials - knew about Col Spicer's attempt to smuggle arms to forces loyal to the deposed head of Sierra Leone's government.

The former Scots Guards officer was arrested in Papua New Guinea in 1997 for allegedly recruiting mercenaries to help thwart an attempted coup as part of a $36m contract with the then government. He then won a court case in Australia, forcing the Papua New Guinea government to pay him up to $18m in unpaid fees.

Meanwhile, Mr Bowen has also disclosed that another small British private military company, Global Risk Securities, has won £36m worth of contracts in Iraq.

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