WFP, Houthis agree deal that could lift partial aid suspension

Yemenis receive sacks of food aid packages from the World Food Programme (WFP) in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida on June 25, 2019. The escalation of attacks by Iran-aligned Huthi rebels on Saudi cities threatens a hard-won UN-sponsored ceasefire deal for the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, war-ravaged Yemen's main conduit for humanitarian aid. (AFP)
Updated 05 August 2019

WFP, Houthis agree deal that could lift partial aid suspension

  • The WFP discovered in December 2018 that donated food in Houthi areas was being systematically diverted through a local partner connected to the group

DUBAI: The World Food Program (WFP) and Yemen’s Houthi militant group, which controls the capital Sanaa, have said they had reached a deal that could lift the UN agency’s partial suspension of aid which has affected around 850,000 people.
The UN agency halted some aid in Sanaa on June 20 out of concern that food was being diverted from vulnerable people, but said it would maintain nutrition programs for malnourished children, pregnant and nursing mothers.
The militant group has used access to aid and food as a political tool, exacerbating what the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Of Yemen’s 30 million people, three-quarters need humanitarian assistance.
Cash transfers to those in need so they can buy goods is a common method of aid distribution.
The agreement represented an important step toward safeguards that guarantee “the accountability” of the agency’s operations, said WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel.
“We are hopeful that technical details can be agreed in the coming days,” Verhoosel said in emailed comments to Reuters, without giving further details of what was agreed. The aid ban resulted from a dispute over control of biometric data between the WFP and the Houthi militants.

SPEEDREAD

Cash transfers to those in need so they can buy goods is a common method of aid distribution.’

The WFP discovered in December 2018 that donated food in Houthi areas was being systematically diverted through a local partner connected to the group. The Houthis have said the WFP insisted on controlling the data in violation of Yemeni law.
The biometric system — using iris scanning, fingerprints or facial recognition — is already used in areas controlled by the government that holds the southern port city of Aden and some western coastal towns.
Arab coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis, who control most large urban centers. The group says its revolution is against corruption.


US FinCEN files expose dirty oil shipment schemes from Istanbul to Syria

Updated 5 min 52 sec ago

US FinCEN files expose dirty oil shipment schemes from Istanbul to Syria

  • Turkey’s involvement in the illegal oil transactions started with a fatal naval accident in January 2019

ISTANBUL: Despite the embargo on oil business with Syria, some Turkish companies are bypassing sanctions through an offshore network.

Recently leaked Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) files revealed that Turkey’s top petrochemical company, Petkim, has been engaged in illegal oil business with the Assad regime through its associate PetroKim, and collaborated with two other companies, Milenyum and Blue Energy, between March 2010 and January 2016.

Turkey’s involvement in the illegal oil transactions started with a fatal naval accident in January 2019 in the Kerch Strait off the Crimean coast, where 20 people were killed by an explosion when the crews of two tankers transferred liquified petroleum gas from one ship to another in the middle of the sea.

Search and rescue teams could only locate 14 sailors, as both ships, loaded with illicit cargo, had deactivated their tracking systems to avoid detection by authorities. Most of the 20 victims were Turkish and Indian citizens.

As a regulatory unit under the US Treasury Department, FinCEN is tasked with fighting money laundering. Since 2011, the US and EU have placed sanctions on all import, purchase and transport activities of oil and petroleum products to and from Syria.

In August 2015, the US Department of the Treasury adopted new sanctions against all individuals and companies providing energy products used by the Assad regime.

This latest $90 million of “suspicious transactions” between March 2010 and January 2016 that involve Turkey’s largest company were discovered in FinCEN files that originally aimed to expose, with more than 2,500 documents, the dirty money moves of some of the world’s biggest banks by avoiding sanctions.

Turkey’s Milenyum Energy was recently put on the US blacklist for violating sanctions on Syria through systematic shipments of oil products to the Syrian port of Baniyas. Its director and some managers, as well as another employee, are under individual sanctions by the US, but its sanctioned tankers still sail under different names to avoid detection.

Its partner company, Blue Energy, is also registered offshore, in the Caribbean, and acts as an intermediary for receiving the payments for the shipments.

The Tanzanian-flagged tankers involved in the naval accident were both owned by Milenyum — a company that operates in Turkey but is registered in Panama — and were allegedly sailing for Syria.  

Petkim is also claimed to have been involved in these illegal operations through its Malta-based company Petrokim, which conducted over $224 million suspicious money transactions between March 2010 and July 2016 by violating sanctions on Syria.

The files exposed that Petrokim was “using an address identical to numerous entities that were designated Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs), meaning blacklisted people, under Iran sanctions.” SDN’s assets are blocked from making any transaction with US nationals. In the meantime, Petkim exchanged over $13 million with Blue Energy.

This corrupt network was previously exposed in the Paradise Papers, where Samir Karimov, vice president of SOCAR Turkey at the time, was found to have also served as the director and legal representative of Petrokim, while SOCAR was then the majority owner of Petkim.

The chemical producer currently posts the highest trading volumes in Turkey, according to stock exchange data, while its rating is B2 negative in Moody’s Investors Service.

The next hearing over the Black Sea naval accident is set to take place in Istanbul on Nov. 20, with the leaks from the US likely to bring a new dimension to the ongoing investigation.

In the meantime, EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday to sanction two individuals and three companies for violating an arms embargo on Libya. One of the companies was Turkey’s Avrasya Shipping, which denies the allegations against it, and claims that it was carrying humanitarian aid.