Watchdog allows ex-Blackwater firm to buy up Phoenix

The Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) director-general Kariuki Wang'ombe. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Last April, Frontier Services Group acquired 49 per cent of Phoenix Aviation at a cost of Sh1.2 billion, but has now acquired 100 per cent stake.
  • The deal anchors the American-owned firm as one of the major logistics and transportation firms in the region.

The competition watchdog has approved full acquisition by Frontier Services Group, (FSG) of Kenyan-owned Phoenix Aviation. Last April, FSG acquired 49 per cent of the aviation firm, but has now acquired 100 per cent stake.

Last year, the firm owned by former CIA spy and ex-CEO of private contractor Blackwater Erik Prince paid Sh1.2 billion for the 49 per cent stake.

The aviation firm was established in 1994 and is based at Wilson Airport in Nairobi. The deal anchors the American-owned firm as one of the major logistics and transportation firms in the region.

“The Competition Authority of Kenya has authorised the proposed acquisition of 100 per cent of the issued share capital of Phoenix Aviation Limited by Frontier Services Group Limited,” said the chief executive of Competition Authority Wang’ombe Kariuki in a statement published in the Kenya Gazette.

Before acquiring the 49 per cent in Phoenix, it had also taken another 49 per cent stake in Kilifi-based Kijipwa Aviation for an undisclosed amount.
However, the Kilifi acquisition ran into headwinds as the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority declined to approve it.

“We believe Phoenix is the best there is in Africa in its sector of aviation. We are delighted to expand our presence within the Kenyan aviation and business communities,” FSG chief executive Gregg Smith said in a statement last year.

He added that with the acquisition “a solid foundation is now laid for our ongoing expansion as a logistics, transportation and risk management services provider with a continent-wide reach.”

Mr Smith has in the past said the company has an $85 million (Sh8.3 billion) cash outlay to use to grow its African aviation business.

At the time of the first announcement, Mr Smith said the firm was planning to have some 25 aircraft in Kenya by the end of last year.

By early last year, the aviation firm had 13 aircraft and a helicopter. It had a working arrangement with Amref Flying Doctors Air ambulance services.

FSG is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, but is incorporated in tax-heaven of Bermuda.

Mr Prince, also an ex-Navy SEAL (Sea, Air, Land Teams – US Navy’s special operations force) and son of a manufacturing tycoon, sold Blackwater in 2010, reportedly for Sh20 billion ($200 million).

Blackwater was involved in several controversies involving its guards being accused of murder of innocent civilians in Iraq. While Mr Prince has denied that his company was a band of hired mercenaries in Iraq, several of the guards have been convicted of murder.

Blackwater changed its name to Academi.

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