US imposes sanctions on 5 entities, 8 people with ties to Syria’s chemical weapons program

The US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Wednesday against five groups and eight individuals linked to Syria's chemical weapons program. (AFP)
Updated 25 July 2018
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US imposes sanctions on 5 entities, 8 people with ties to Syria’s chemical weapons program

WASHINGTON: The US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Wednesday against five groups and eight individuals linked to Syria's chemical weapons program, the department said in a statement.
The targeted groups and people were key to a network that procured electronics for the Syrian agency that develops the weapons, it said.
"Syria’s horrific use of chemical weapons, including attacks against innocent women and children, remains deeply embedded in our minds," said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism.
"Today, we are continuing our campaign to stop the Assad regime’s ruthless attacks by targeting the procurement networks that have supported its chemical weapons program," he said.
Treasury said it coordinated its action with France, which earlier this week renewed an asset freeze on 24 entities and individuals for providing an array of support to the Syrian agency.
Among the companies Treasury designated is Electronics Katrangi Trading (EKT), an electronics supplier based in Lebanon with operations in Syria, Egypt, China and France.
Treasury called it a leading supplier for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, the agency in charge of its chemcial weapons programs.
Amir Katrangi, Maher Katrangi, Houssam Katrangi, Mohamad Katrangi, Mireille Chahine, are individuals linked to EKT who were among the people cited in the sanctions statement.


New Zealand crews reenter coal mine 8 years after 29 killed

This handout photo from the Pike River Family Reference Group taken on and recieved by AFP on May 21, 2019 shows family members and workers hugging after the re-opening of the entrance to the Pike River Mine where 29 miners lost their lives in an explosion in 2010 in the north west of the South Island of New Zealand. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2019
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New Zealand crews reenter coal mine 8 years after 29 killed

  • The plan won’t allow access into the inner workings of the mine, which are blocked by a massive rockfall

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Crews in New Zealand on Tuesday reentered an underground coal mine where a methane explosion killed 29 workers more than eight years ago, raising hopes among family members that they might find bodies and new evidence that leads to criminal charges.
Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton was killed in the explosion, said the families had been fighting for this ever since the Pike River mine exploded.
“We did it. We won,” she said.
She said it had been a “hugely emotional” day for the families and it was a moving experience to watch people going back into the mine. She said they hope the crews can recover electronic equipment that indicates what went wrong, much like the black box in a plane.
“The families are all hoping that the team going in, with their forensic expertise, will find new evidence for future prosecutions against those who allowed the mine to blow up in first place,” she said.
Nigel Hampton, a lawyer who is acting for the families, said that if they discover what ignited the methane, it could help link acts of negligence with the deaths of the miners and result in charges such as manslaughter.
“There’s still a long way to go yet, but it’s possible,” he said.
Two workers escaped the mine after the deadly November 2010 explosion. After several more explosions, the mine was sealed shut with a concrete barrier.
New Zealand’s previous conservative government concluded the mine remained too unsafe to reenter. But the liberal government elected in 2017, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, reconsidered.
“New Zealand is not a country where 29 people can die at work without real accountability,” said Andrew Little, the minister responsible for Pike River reentry. “That is not who we are. And that is why today we have fulfilled our promise. Today we have returned.”
The plan won’t allow access into the inner workings of the mine, which are blocked by a massive rockfall. It remains unclear how many miners were on either side of the rockfall at the time of the explosion or how many bodies might be recovered.
New Zealand police said they’ll be examining any new evidence from the mine, which they could use to file charges.
An earlier investigation concluded the Pike River Coal company had exposed miners to unacceptable risks as it strove to meet financial targets. The report found the company ignored 21 warnings that methane gas had accumulated to explosive levels before the disaster.
The company, which went bankrupt, didn’t contest labor violation charges against it.
Labor violation charges against former chief executive Peter Whittall were dismissed after he and the company made a financial settlement, a development which angered many of the grieving families. New Zealand’s Supreme Court later ruled the settlement was unlawful.
Whittall moved to Australia about five years ago.