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

US FinCEN files expose dirty oil shipment schemes from Istanbul to Syria
Turkey's drilling ship, Fatih, is sailing through Bosphorus toward Black Sea in this file photo, in Istanbul. (AP)
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Updated 23 September 2020

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

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.


Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets
Updated 15 April 2021

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets
  • Israel is a signatory to numerous international treaties obliging it to respect the sanctity of holy places

AMMAN: Jordan on Wednesday condemned Israeli police for sabotaging door locks at four Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets in a bid to silence the Muslim call to prayer.

The move came after waqf officials, who oversee Jerusalem’s holy sites, refused to turn off loudspeakers on the first day of Ramadan. They said the Israelis had wanted it quiet while new soldiers prayed at the Buraq (Western) wall.

Jordanian officials claimed employees of the Jordan-run Jerusalem waqf and Al-Aqsa affairs department were harassed during the police operation.

Daifallah Al-Fayez, spokesman for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, described the Israeli actions as a provocation against Muslims around the world and a violation of international law and the historical status quo.

He said that Al-Aqsa Mosque was a “pure” Islamic holy site and that the Jerusalem waqf department was “the sole authority” tasked with supervising all of its affairs.

A source at the Jerusalem Waqf Council told Arab News: “This is the first time since 1967 that Israeli occupiers have sabotaged locks in order to enter the minarets and physically cut off the electricity to the loudspeakers. And they pursued waqf officials and staff who refused to carry out their demands.”

Israel is a signatory to numerous international treaties obliging it to respect the sanctity of holy places.

An Israeli siren was sounded in Jerusalem at 8 p.m. on Tuesday as a tribute to the country’s 23,928 fallen soldiers with that day’s call for isha prayer in the city being at 8:29 p.m.

Hanna Issa, head of the Islamic-Christian Committee for Jerusalem, told Arab News that the Israeli action had been a violation of the 1998 Rome Convention and called on the international community to hold Israel to account.

Dimitri Diliani, president of the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land, told Arab News that the incident was an attempt to stifle religious freedoms and represented an attack against Islamic holy places.

“In addition, this is a reflection of a racist policy of the Israeli occupiers that can’t accept anyone who is not Jewish,” he said.

Ahmad Tamimi, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, urged international action to put an end to Israeli violations of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.


Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi

Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi
Updated 4 min 34 sec ago

Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi

Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi
  • Kidnapping of Al-Hammadi and two friends is latest attack by the Houthis on dissidents

AL-MUKALLA: Iran-backed Houthis plan to launch a criminal investigation against Entesar Al-Hammadi, a young Yemeni model and actress, who was abducted from a Sanaa street on Feb. 20, the model’s lawyer Khaled Mohammed Al-Kamal said on Wednesday.

The kidnapping of Al-Hammadi and two of her friends is the latest in a string of attacks by the Houthis on dissidents and liberal women in areas under the group’s control.

Al-Kamal told Arab News that a prosecutor from the rebel-controlled West Sanaa court will question Entesar on Sunday.

“My client was arrested without a warrant,” Al-Kamal said by telephone, giving no information about the Houthis’ explanation for the abduction.

Yemeni officials said the three actresses were traveling to shoot a drama series when the rebels stopped their vehicle on Sanaa’s Hadda Street and took them to an unknown location.
 


Al-Hammadi was born to a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother and pursued her ambition to become a model despite growing up in a conservative society. The 20-year-old first caught the public’s attention after she published images showing off traditional Yemeni costumes and she later appeared on a local television show talking about her dream of becoming an international supermodel.

The Houthis accused the abducted actresses of violating traditional Islamic dress codes.

Their detainment has sparked outrage inside and outside Yemen as human rights activists and government officials compared Houthi suppression of women to similar activities by terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh.


Moammar Al-Eryani, Yemen's minister for information, culture and tourism, said the rebels have launched a “systemic and organized” crackdown on Yemeni women in areas under their control.

“We call on the international community, the UN, the US envoys to Yemen and the women's protection organizations to condemn this crime and pressure the terrorist Houthi militia to immediately release the abductees,” the minister wrote on social media. “They must stop the extortion of women and release all disappeared women from their secret prisons unconditionally.”

Al-Hammadi told a local TV station last year that she wished she could travel abroad to work as a model, citing parental and societal resistance at home.

“It would be great if I was given an opportunity outside Yemen,” she said.

 

 


Social media users have blasted the Houthis for snatching women from the street.

Huda Al-Sarari, a Yemeni activist, said that the abduction of Al-Hammadi is part of “a dirty” campaign by the rebels against women.

“My solidarity is with my dear Entisar and with all male and female abductees inside the militia’s prisons,” she wrote on Twitter.

Amat Al-Salam Al-Hajj, chairwoman of the Mothers of Abductees Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of female relatives of war prisoners, told Arab News that the Houthis have “brazenly” committed crimes against dissidents and women amid “unexplained” silence of international rights organizations.

“The Houthis have abducted models and female activists and committed flagrant violations of human rights before the eyes and ears of the UN, human rights organizations, and everyone else,” she said.

 

 


WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan

WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan
Updated 15 April 2021

WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan

WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan
  • In Yemen, where some 14 million doses were pledged through the Covax program that aims to ensure equitable access to COVID vaccinations

CAIRO: The World Health Organization expressed concern on Wednesday that the COVID-19 pandemic could worsen in the Middle East and North Africa during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Detected cases of COVID infection in the region rose 22 percent last week, while deaths rose 17 percent, said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the Cairo-based chief of the WHO for the eastern Mediterranean.

Mandhari said the situation in the vast region reflects a “worrying trend.” “We are especially worried that the current situation may worsen during Ramadan if people don’t follow and adhere to the proven social measures that work,” he told an online news conference.

Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, began in most Muslim countries on Tuesday. Observant Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, and traditionally gather with family and friends to break their fast.

“This year, like last year, people may feel that the spirit of Ramadan has changed because of social distancing and lockdowns,” said Mandhari. “But the actions that need to be maintained to help contain the pandemic are in line with the basic tenets of Islam: Take care of your physical health and do no harm to others.”

Dalia Samhouri, WHO’s regional head of emergency preparedness, said the international organization wanted “countries to do a risk assessment in order to prevent the dissemination of the infection.”

She suggested measures that could be taken around mosques during Ramadan, including physical distancing, ventilation, and regular disinfection. People who felt sick were advised to stay at home, along with the elderly and sufferers of chronic disease, she said.

Mandhari said all countries in the region had received vaccines, but that those with the most limited access were Yemen and Syria.

“Although progress has been made with starting vaccination around the world, there remains a shocking imbalance in the distribution of vaccines,” he said. “This is especially true in our region.”

In Yemen, where some 14 million doses were pledged through the Covax program that aims to ensure equitable access to COVID vaccinations, only 360,000 have been delivered.


Blinken calls Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’

Blinken calls Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’
Updated 15 April 2021

Blinken calls Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’

Blinken calls Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’
  • He said the step calls into question Iran’s seriousness in the nuclear talks
  • US says indirect nuclear talks with Iran to resume on Thursday

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called Iran’s announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent purity “provocative,” saying the step raised questions about the seriousness of Tehran over the nuclear talks in Vienna.
Iran has said it will enrich uranium to 60 percent — a big step closer to the 90 percent that is weapons-grade from the 20 percent maximum it has reached so far — in response to what it says was an act of sabotage by Israel against its key nuclear facility.
“We take very seriously its provocative announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent,” Blinken told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, referring to Iran.
The European countries party to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal also told Tehran that the step was contrary to efforts to revive the accord.
“I have to tell you the step calls into question Iran’s seriousness with regard the nuclear talks, just as it underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA,” Blinken said, referring to the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The nuclear deal has unraveled as Iran has breached its limits on uranium enrichment in a graduated response to US withdrawal from the agreement in 2018 and Washington’s reinstatement of harsh economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Wednesday Iran has “almost completed preparations” for 60 percent uranium enrichment.
Last week, Iran and fellow signatories held what they described as “constructive” talks to restore the deal ditched by the former Trump administration.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that indirect talks in Vienna would reconvene on Thursday.
“Our understanding is they (the Iranians) plan to attend tomorrow. We are also very open-eyed about how this will be a long process. It is happening through indirect negotiations but we still feel that it is a step forward,” she added.
Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday dismissed initial offers at talks in Vienna to save Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal as “not worth looking at.”
The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in the Islamic Republic, came after a day that saw Iran’s president similarly ratchet up pressure over the accord. European powers meanwhile warned Tehran its actions were “particularly regrettable” and “dangerous.”
(With Reuters, AFP and AP)


GCC calls on world powers to include Gulf concerns in Iran nuclear talks

GCC calls on world powers to include Gulf concerns in Iran nuclear talks
Updated 15 April 2021

GCC calls on world powers to include Gulf concerns in Iran nuclear talks

GCC calls on world powers to include Gulf concerns in Iran nuclear talks
  • Nayef Al-Hajraf told P5+1 talks in Vienna should not be limited to the Iranian nuclear program
  • Arab League says Iran talks should also address the concerns of Arab countries

LONDON: The Iranian nuclear talks in Vienna must address the concerns and interests of Gulf countries to enhance security and stability in the region, the GCC secretary general said on Wednesday.
The comments by Nayef Al-Hajraf came in letters sent to the foreign ministers of the permanent members of the UN Security Council — the US, UK, France, china and Russia — and Germany.
The talks in Vienna are aimed at finding a way for the US to re-enter Tehran’s nuclear agreement with world powers and have Iran comply again with its limits.
Al-Hajraf said the GCC is a major contributor to strengthening the security and stability of the region, and that the negotiations currently underway in Vienna should not be limited to the Iranian nuclear program, but rather should include Iran’s destabilizing behavior, ballistic missiles, and paths.
The talks have been thrown into disarray by a weekend attack on Iran’s main Natanz nuclear enrichment site suspected to have been carried out by Israel. Tehran retaliated by announcing it would enrich uranium up to 60 percent — higher than it ever has before but still lower than weapons-grade levels of 90 percent.
The GCC chief warned that Iran’s announcement of uranium enrichment is a dangerous and worrying indicator for regional and international security.
Saudi Arabia similarly issued a statement, saying enriching at that level “could not be considered a program intended for peaceful purposes.”
Al-Hajraf also called on the “international community to shoulder its responsibilities toward this dangerous and threatening development to regional and global peace and security.”

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said he was “deeply concerned” over Iran’s announcement of uranium enrichment, saying it is a “clear and certain step” toward developing a nuclear weapon and increases doubts about the real goals of Tehran’s nuclear program.
He also said that ongoing negotiations in Vienna should not be restricted to the nuclear aspect, but should also address the concerns of Arab countries regarding Iran’s destabilizing policies in the region and its continuous interference in their internal affairs.
(With AP)