Heritage, on its website, attempts to distance its chief executive from his past by stating that he severed relations with his mercenary and security contacts and associates since 1998, but the British media still link him with old associates in the warring business.
The Sunday Times once put the Buckingham, who owns 33 per cent shares in Heritage, “at the epicentre of the trade in arms and soldiers… into war-torn African states.”
Buckingham, a former diver and British SAS officer, is linked to Simon Mann, a former Scots Guard, who was arrested, tried and jailed for leading the attempted “Wonga coup” to depose dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasago of Equatorial Guinea. Mann was sentenced to a 34-year-jail sentence in Equatorial Guinea on July 7, 2008, for the 2004 failed coup but was granted presidential pardon in November 2009 on humanitarian grounds.
Buckingham, Mann and Lt-Col Eeben Barlow, a former Apartheid-era member of the South African Defense Forces, were founding partners in Executive Outcomes, a crack team of commandos made up of mainly former members of the South African Defense Force, which they used in fighting UNITA rebels in Angola.
Buckingham had become an adviser to the Angolan government under Jose Eduardo dos Santos around 1989 and helped the Angolan ministry of oil set up Sonangol, an oil and gas exploration and production company. He, in turn, set up Heritage in 1992 and his company and Sonangol held oil-prospecting business.
In 1993, communist UNITA rebels overran Angola, taking over oil operations, including Heritage’s oil interest in the country. Buckingham teamed up with Mann and Barlow, who had founded Executive Outcomes in 1989, to use the mercenary outfit to fight the rebels and retrieve his oil interests.
But Buckingham had direct involvement in mercenary activities in other parts of Africa, including Sierra Leone. In 1995, that country’s government contracted Executive Outcomes to help train its army and fight the RUF forces.
Buckingham became a principal figure in another mercenary outfit, Sandline, founded in 1996 by Tim Spicer, a retired British colonel, which was hired to organise a counter coup against soldiers who toppled the government of president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone. Sandline was allegedly contracted for the job by Indian financier, Rakesh Saxena, in return for diamonds exploration permits.
Another of Buckingham’s business dealings in Africa that went awry concerns diamond mining in Namibia. The mercenary-turned oil magnate as CEO of Sky Gem, a mining company, got diamond prospecting rights for the Neu Schwaben from the Namibian government. The businessman was accused of forcefully ejecting over 1,000 small-time miners who had been operating on the farm for years.
Although Heritage claims that Buckingham severed links with Mann in 2000, Hansard Trust Company Ltd and Hansard Management, two companies, which both have shares in four of the companies in the Heritage Group have been linked to Logo Limited.
Investigations show that before its deal with Shoreline, Heritage had made spirited efforts for years to find an investment inroad into Nigeria. In fact, as far back as 2003, the company was already sending representatives the country to prospect for investment opportunities.
Sources said that a representative of Heritage approached a Nigerian broker in November 2003, asking for opportunities in oil and gas, refineries as well as other business areas.
The source said that the representative also told the agent that Buckingham was interested in “military business.” Asking for contacts in the military, Buckingham’s man said that although he no longer had military affiliations, one of Buckingham’s companies still owned two Russian MI24 Helicopter Gunships, the type used by the Nigerian military, located in Australia and in good condition and which he was willing to sell to an interested buyer in Nigeria.
However, the man who first brought Heritage and Buckingham into Nigeria is Folorunso Okenla, former Green Eagles player. Okenla disclosed that he got to know of Heritage’s good records in Uganda and contacted Buckingham to impress on him that he was not yet a big player if he wasn’t doing business in Nigeria.
Subsequently, Okenla’s company, Haoni Oil and Gas, partnered with Heritage in the 2005 bidding round in Abuja but failed.
“I brought Heritage into Nigeria” Ayoola told our reporter, adding, “what we were looking at was to be the local partner to Heritage, which was already a big oil industry player in Uganda”
“Our first business relationship with Heritage was in 2005 when Haoni Oil and Gas partnered with them during the 2005 bidding round in Abuja but we did not succeed,” the ex–footballer-turned businessman stated.
Heritage’s new deal in Nigeria means that it takes over 45 per cent of OML 30 with eight producing fields, some 200 wells, along with associated infrastructure, which includes a segment of the 850,000 bopd capacity Trans Forcados pipeline.
The acquisition, according to a statement by Heritage, is being financed by a $550 million secured bridge finance facility provided by Standard Bank of South Africa and a $370 million underwritten rights issue sponsored by JP Morgan Securities Limited.
Kola Karim, CEO of Shoreline Power Resources, expressed excitement at the acquisition.
“Heritage is very excited to be participating in the development of OML 30 and entering at an attractive valuation. We look forward to continuing to build local relationships and partnerships with the communities in the delta region and creating a platform to build a substantial presence in Nigeria.”