Five UK mercenaries offered $150,000 each to fly helicopters for Gen Haftar in Libya, say UN

Gareth Browne
Libyan commander General Khalifa Haftar has been fighting the UN-backed government for control over Libya - Costas Baltas/Reuters

Five British mercenaries involved in an operation to fly assault helicopters for Libya’s renegade General Khalifa Haftar were offered bounties of up to $150,000 each for their role in the daring plot which went awry. 

The men, comprised of former Royal Marines and RAF personnel, were among 20 foreign mercenaries who traveled to Libya last June in an operation to pilot assault helicopters and speed boats to intercept Turkish ships ferrying weapons to Haftar’s opponents – the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

A source with knowledge of the secret UN report which revealed the plot told The Daily Telegraph that the men involved were believed on sums of “$30,000 to $50,000 a month, or $20,000 to $40,000 per month depending on whether you were pilot or aircrewman”.

“It was a three-month contract”.

The Telegraph can reveal that the UN investigation concluded that the operation was led by Steven Lodge, a former South African Air Force officer who also served in the British military.

Mr. Lodge, who now resides in Scotland, is a director of Umbra Aviation, a South-Africa based company that has recently supplied helicopters to the Government of Mozambique, where the country is battling a jihadist insurgency in its restive north.

Speaking to The Telegraph over the phone, Mr. Lodge flatly denied the chronicle of events detailed in the UN report. “All the info is incorrect - the whole facts behind the whole thing,” he said.

Battles between the UN backed government and Gen Haftar's forces have been raging for control over Libya - MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP

“The fact that the UN is leaking is unethical, to say the least,” he added. 

The operation was dubbed “Project Opus”, and was run under the cover story of a “geophysical and hyperspectral" survey of Jordan.

Yet, the report, prepared for the United Nations’ Sanctions Committee, alleges that the operation ended in farce after General Haftar disputed the quality of helicopters that had been bought in from South Africa via Mozambique.

The 20 men were forced to flee by RHIB to Malta, some 350 miles away on June 2nd, barely four days after their arrival. In Malta, they were arrested upon arrival and subsequently released without charge.

The helicopters were left behind.

Another of those involved is Andy Furness, a former RAF crewman who spent 26 years in the military before, serving until 2011.

Mr. Furness is now CEO of Amber Tiger, an aviation company based in Cheltenham. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment.