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 begins COVID-19 vaccines as students start to return

Jordan’s king, crown prince, and many well-known medical and media celebrities were filmed receiving the vaccination in an effort to convince skeptics of its safety. (RHCJO)
Jordan’s king, crown prince, and many well-known medical and media celebrities were filmed receiving the vaccination in an effort to convince skeptics of its safety. (RHCJO)
Updated 17 min 38 sec ago

Jordan begins COVID-19 vaccines as students start to return

Jordan’s king, crown prince, and many well-known medical and media celebrities were filmed receiving the vaccination in an effort to convince skeptics of its safety. (RHCJO)
  • Hillaleh Oweis, 92, was the first to take the vaccine in the city of Jarash
  • King Abdullah II and the crown prince have also received their vaccinations

AMMAN: Jordan has started inoculating its citizens against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and became the first country to start vaccinating refugees on its soil. 

Jordan’s king, crown prince, and many well-known medical and media celebrities were filmed receiving the vaccination in an effort to convince skeptics of its safety.

 

 

Hillaleh Oweis, 92, was the first to take the vaccine in the city of Jarash. Her daughter Eman told Arab News that her mother was initially skeptical of the vaccine but was eventually convinced of its safety and has shown no side effects.

Ziad Al-Kabashi, an Iraqi refugee in Irbid, was among the first refugees in the world to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. He was prioritized for the vaccine because he suffers from chronic diseases and is considered part of the high-risk category.

Meanwhile, government spokesperson Ali Al Ayed announced the lifting of the Friday curfew but said that the daily midnight-to-sunrise curfew will remain.

Minister of Education Tayseer Nueimi said that as of Feb. 7, students from kindergarten, the third grade and the 12th grade will gradually return to classes, while other grades will continue with remote learning, with a review every two weeks.

Nadine Nimri, head of a popular campaign for the return to schools, told Arab News that an online poll of 25,000 Jordanians by the pressure group showed that the knowledge gap had widened considerably during the past 11 months of online teaching.

Nimri said: “81 percent of the families said that their children’s education has been badly affected, with many unable to connect to the government-sponsored online teaching program.”

She added: “The system is a one-way process and does not engage with students.” 

Nimri welcomed the decision to return some grades to school. “Even though it was late, the decision is a good one. Now schools need to make up for all the lost teaching days. They need to put a reasonable plan to make up what was lost before moving ahead.”

Thoqan Obeidat, a veteran educator, told Arab News that decisions to restart the second semester should be based on science, not politics or peer pressure. “We are all for the opening of schools, but this should be done only if the health situation allows.”

He added: “In the meantime, we should continue to improve online teaching until we are able to guarantee safe face-to-face education.”

Obeidat criticized the decision to rotate students from the early grades as families will have some children going back to school and others stuck at home.