LONDON: The London-based company used to ship the ammonium nitrate that caused last August’s devastating explosion in Beirut has been linked to three individuals known to have ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
An investigation by Lebanese filmmaker Firas Hatoum uncovered connections between London-based Savaro Ltd. and three figures who had been central to efforts to bolster Assad since the earliest months of the Syrian war.
Hatoum’s findings for the first time raise the possibility that the 2,750 tons of nitrate that leveled much of Beirut’s port and killed 200 people may have been a by-product of Syrian officials’ attempts to procure nitrate to use in weapons.
Joint Russian-Syrian citizens George Haswani, Mudalal Khuri and his brother Imad Khuri have all been previously sanctioned by the US for supporting Assad’s war effort.
Companies linked to Haswani and the Khuri brothers — Hesco Engineering and Construction, and the now-defunct IK Petroleum, respectively — shared a London address with Savaro, which purchased the nitrate in 2013.
Haswani was a go-to businessman for Assad, and was sanctioned by the US for his role in purchasing oil produced by Daesh on behalf of the Syrian regime.
Savaro is a shelf company — meaning it has never traded, conducted business or held assets — that was removed from the UK’s company lists on Tuesday, the same day that Hatoum revealed its links to the blast.
Mudalal was accused by the US of attempting to source ammonium nitrate in the months leading up to when the Russian freighter Rhosus docked in Beirut’s port and unloaded the chemical compound.
The ship’s opaque ownership and sudden diversion to Beirut, as well as the mysterious origins of its cargo, had fueled suspicion from the outset that the ammonium nitrate was always destined for Beirut rather than Mozambique, its official endpoint.
A number of other complicating factors have obscured the truth behind the source of the ammonium nitrate and its intended destination.
The shadowy world of international shipping, the volume of shelf companies used to move the nitrate, and the difficulty in tracking down and questioning witnesses in such a global context, have slowed the local investigation into the blast’s causes.
Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, three former ministers and more than 30 low-level officials have so far been charged in relation to the explosion.
But the connections between Haswani, the Khuri brothers and the Assad regime have rippled through Lebanese society since they were exposed on Tuesday.
Hatoum said he is skeptical that Lebanon will ever truly know how the blast was allowed to happen.
“I doubt that (Lebanon can resolve an investigation) for many reasons, looking at the way that things were handled in previous months,” he added.
“And I don’t trust any foreign or international investigation either because we have had such a bad experience in the past and politics always gets in the way.”