In the chill of a Nevada morning, David Painter left his Las Vegas hotel. Wearing a Hugo Boss suit and a blue Brooks Brothers shirt, a Rolex on his wrist, he bore the anonymous affluence of business travel. For a defence industry executive his first diary appointment was routine: a weapons demonstration at a training range just outside the city limits.
It was as his 4x4 arrived at the range that the FBI SWAT team appeared to take him down. Four hulking police commandos in body armour, jackboots, helmets and goggles thrust their semi-automatic rifles through his car door. ‘Shut up and get out,’ they ordered, the array of close combat weapons on their waist belts brooking no refusal.
The middle-aged Briton was handcuffed and led at gunpoint into a pastel two-storey classroom building. There on a desk he found a large cardboard box awaiting his briefcase and laptop, his telephone and wallet. On it was stapled his mug shot and a charge sheet. Across the top were the typewritten words ‘Armed and Dangerous’.
Painter was neither. He was the Surrey-based chief executive of 3S (Security Support Solutions Ltd), a company licensed and audited by the British Government to supply civilian armoured vehicles for use in conflict zones including Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. He was also, it was to emerge that day in Vegas, the victim of a huge, sleazy and ultimately doomed FBI operation known as The Africa Sting.
The project had been set up as a fake $15 million deal to arm the presidential guard of the Omar Bongo regime in the West African nation of Gabon. It had been created by the American Department of Justice (DoJ) and run by the FBI (unbeknown to Bongo). They designed it to be a deadly weapon in their arsenal against corruption but the biggest investigation of its type in DoJ-FBI history brought only humiliation, controversy and complete legal defeat.
David Painter’s liberty, home and business were the collateral damage. After his arrest in January 2010 he was jailed for five weeks.
Once bailed, he had to sell his much-loved £1.5 million Surrey home and liquidate shares and pensions to pay legal fees and costs amounting to £1 million. 3S has ceased trading.
In February this year the DoJ asked a judge to dismiss all charges made against him with prejudice, which means they can never be revisited. The same was true of his 21 co-accused. In the end, nobody ensnared by the fictitious Gabon deal was convicted. Read More