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Tuesday 23 September 2014

High level Irish security worker ‘unlawfully detained’ by secret police in Mauritania

Published 29/07/2014 | 07:20

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Village in western Mauritania
Mauritania's government and security services are widely seen as corrupt, meaning many foreign companies rely on private security firms.

AN Irish security worker has been ‘unlawfully detained’ by secret police in Mauritania, according to his employer.

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Derek Fergus is an employee of MSS security, a security company providing security to Embassies, Non-Profit Organisations and foreign mining companies in the region.

Mr Fergus is the Regional Security Manager for MSS and oversees the company’s operations throughout West Africa.

The company regularly provides security for shipments worth of millions of euro.

He was recently home in Ireland to visit family, however on his return to the country he was detained by airport police, and shortly afterwards handed over to secret police.

He was held on arrival for six hours – and during his detention was taken to his house where officers searched all belongings.

Officers seized all his personal electronics, including external hard drives and data storage. His Irish passport and residents card were also confiscated.

He was released from custody but he hasn't had his personal effects returned, and he has been warned not to leave the capital city Nouakchott.

It is believed by his employer that his detention is unlawful, as senior members of the country’s security forces who the company liaises with were unaware of the operation and unable to offer assistance.

On Sunday officers attempted to coerce Mr Fergus into handing over the login details for his laptop, which is heavily encrypted.

A spokesperson for MSS told Independent.ie: “Our sources indicate that this wasn’t an official arrest due to senior members of the Government security service being unaware of proceedings and that normal legal procedures were not followed.

“We suspect that the reason of his arrest was to obtain the contents of his laptop and data storage devices.”

It is understood Mr Fergus’ laptop contains sensitive financial information as well as security operating procedures.

MSS is responsible for protecting a major shipment of gold and bank notes out of the country to Europe - details of which are on the laptop.

The company works in six other west African countries securing valuable shipments, details of which are also stored on Mr Fergus' laptop.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed they were made aware of the case over the weekend and assistance was provided by both the weekend duty officer and the consular assistance section of the Department.

However a spokesperson told Independent.ie that the department was limited in what it could do, as there is no Irish embassy in Mauritania.

"Ireland does not have an embassy in Mauritania.

"Irish citizens that require consular assistance in a country where Ireland does not have a resident Mission or any formal diplomatic or consular relations are entitled, under EU law, to seek assistance from a resident Mission or consular representative of any other EU Member State", he said. 

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