June 12, 2021

These three Syrian businessmen allegedly involved in the shipment of ammonium nitrate

They are all three Syro-Russian, all three close to the Assad regime and all three implicated in the investigation broadcast on the al-Jadeed television channel Tuesday evening revealing their involvement in the delivery to the port of Beirut of the cargo of ammonium nitrate responsible for the double explosion that devastated the capital on August 4. Three businessmen who would drag behind them a long list of schemes and fraudulent schemes for the benefit of Damascus. Three figures – George Haswani, Imad and Moudallal Khouri – now linked to the company that bought the explosive material stored in the port of the capital in 2013. “What they have in common – although it is a characteristic specific to the majority of the leading emerging actors in Syria – it is this role of intermediary trader to deliver important products for the Syrian regime or to negotiate with other political actors ”, summarizes Joseph Daher, master teacher of research at the University of Lausanne and affiliate professor at the European University Institute in Florence.

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First name involved in the affair, that of George Haswani, a Christian from Yabroud, in the north of Damascus, and henchman of the Syrian regime. According to the investigation carried out by journalist Firas Hatoum for al-Jadeed, Savaro Limited, the company responsible for the purchase and delivery of ammonium nitrate in July 2013 – four months before the cargo entered the port -, would in reality be a fictitious entity serving as a screen for Hesco Engineering and Construction Company (Hesco) of which Mr. Haswani is the owner. The company is considered to be a subsidiary of Russian company Stroytransgaz owned by billionaire close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Gennady Timchenko. George Haswani is meanwhile, through Hesco, one of the tycoons behind the implementation of oil projects in Syria for the Russian company. In 2015, Mr. Haswani was sanctioned by Washington for facilitating the purchase of oil from the Islamic State group on behalf of the Syrian government, an accusation that the main party has always refuted. According to information reported by the Financial Times the same year, Haswani has “direct access” to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and was then negotiating contracts between the jihadist organization and the regime, also operating a natural gas installation in Tabqa, in Raqqa province, jointly managed by Damascus and ISIS. “Haswani negotiated with ISIS for the protection of the Russians there and the fact that they could make round trips to Deir ez-Zor airport where the regime had kept a military presence. And in exchange, they shared the oil and electricity revenues sold to the regime, ”recalls Ziad Majed, political scientist and professor at the American University of Paris. “After the operation led by an American commando in Deir ez-Zor during which Abu Sayyaf – Daesh’s finance man – was killed, documents found at his home showed agreements signed by Haswani”, he continues. .

Affairs of the nuns of Maaloula

According to open access sources on the UK government website Companies House, the registration of the Hesco company dates from August 4, 2005. The company was managed by Mr. Haswani until October 20, 2014, and then was dissolved on November 17, 2020, just three and a half months after the explosion of the port of Beirut. Little information is circulating on the exact nature of the relationship between George Haswani and the Syrian regime. But according to the Syrian opposition site All4Syria, the businessman would have married as a second marriage an Alawite woman from Latakia and linked to the Assad family. “This would have enabled George Haswani to consolidate his network in the Yabroud region, but also among businessmen of this Assad generation who benefit from projects particularly in the energy sector”, comments Ziad Majed. Since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, Georges Haswani’s functions have not been limited to the economic sphere. His name thus appeared for the first time for his role in the so-called case of the nuns of Maaloula in March 2014. He would thus have facilitated the release of these thirteen Greek-Orthodox nuns who had been kidnapped by the Front al-Nosra ( Syrian branch of al-Qaeda).

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Mr. Haswani appears to mirror a class of Syrian businessmen that the Assad regime increasingly relied on to finance the war as its coffers drained. He is one of those magnates close to power who actively contributed to the financing of militias in the pay of Damascus, in particular by disbursing large sums for the Dir al-Qalamoun group, which operated, until its dissolution in 2018, in the eponymous mountains towards the Lebanese border.

Khouri Network

Georges Haswani is not the only Syrian businessman who seems to be involved in the business of shipping ammonium nitrate to the port of Beirut. Two other names are also mentioned, those of Imad and Moudallal Khouri. The aforementioned shell company Savoro Limited shares, according to the investigation by Firas Hatoum, the same address in the United Kingdom as IK Petroleum Industrial Company Limited, a company managed by Imad Khouri since its incorporation on August 6, 2013 until his resignation. of its leader on July 18, 2016. However, his brother, Moudallal, has been on the American sanctions list since 2015 for having conducted business with the Syrian regime, in particular as an intermediary in the context of an attempted purchase of ammonium nitrate for Syria at the end of 2013. Moudallal Khouri left his native Syria for Russia in the 1970s where he has since then skilfully worked to build an opaque network of banks, companies and offshore entities. According to a report by the international organization Global Witness published in July 2020, he is now the head of a Syrian-Russian money laundering network that has provided active support to Bashar al-Assad’s regime for the past ten years. years.

This precious aid has come in several forms, allowing a regime ostracized by the international community to provide itself with foreign currency and fuel. This network would also be at the origin of front companies, including one in Cyprus and two in the British Virgin Islands, which potentially served as a cover for chemical weapons and ballistic missile programs. The international organization accuses, among others, the Khouri network of having probably helped the Makhlouf family, a relative of the Syrian president, to invest some 40 million dollars in Russian real estate and to operate with the tacit agreement of the services of Russian intelligence, arguing that one of Moudallal Khouri’s partners could be a member of the foreign intelligence services.

They are all three Syro-Russian, all three close to the Assad regime and all three implicated in the investigation broadcast on the al-Jadeed television channel Tuesday evening revealing their involvement in the delivery to the port of Beirut of the cargo of ammonium nitrate responsible for the double explosion that devastated the capital on August 4. Three men…