An investigative report by journalist Firas Hatoum aired on Al-Jadeed on Tuesday revealed that Syrian businessmen close to the Syrian regime were allegedly linked to the ammonium nitrate shipment that reached Lebanon in 2013 and exploded in 2020.
Several experts contributed to the report, including Will Fitzgibbon, a senior ICIJ reporter, Graham Barrow, a British author and consultant in combating financial crimes, and Ashraf Safieddine, a Lebanese lawyer specialized in company establishment who’s been following investigations into the Beirut Port explosion case.
Names and Pawns
The report starts off by indicating that the names that have been thrown around since the start of investigations into the August 4th explosion, as main actors in the case, are only “side characters” meant to serve as a scapegoat and divert attention from the real perpetrators.
This is particularly true in regards to the people whose names became tied to the MV Rhosus ship that brought the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate to Beirut, the report, titled “Ship of Death,” explains.
For one thing, Russian national Igor Grechushkin, who was said to be the owner of the ship early on, and now has a Red Notice bearing his name, is not actually so.
At the time of the explosion, the ship was owned by Briarwood Corporation, which is owned by Cypriot businessman Charalambos Manoli.
Additionally, the captain who was on the ship when it entered Lebanon, Borys Prokoshev, who is also now wanted by Interpol, is not the primary captain.
This would be Abakumov Viacheslav, a name that has remained off the tables throughout the investigations into the blast, despite appearing on documents related to the shipment, including the final clearance to have the deadly cargo enter the Port of Beirut.
In addition to the above, a prominent name essential to this investigative report is Savaro Limited, the company that purchased the ammonium nitrate from a Georgia-based factory.
The key takeaway from the report about Savaro Limited, which was established in 2006 and registered in London, is that it is a shell company created with the purpose of providing cover for the real company and people behind the purchase.
What Company and People?
The idea of searching for active companies with real commercial records that share an address with Savaro Limited appeared to be “a good and, maybe the only, way to try to know its real owners and, consequently, the real owners of the ammonium nitrate shipment,” Hatoum says in the report.
And so, the hunt began, ultimately leading to one company that fit the description out of nearly 70 others registered in the UK in 2013: Hesco Engineering and Construction.
Established in 2006, listing the same address that points to Savaro Limited, Hesco Engineering and Construction was a real, operating company owned by George Haswani, a prominent Syrian businessman who holds Russian citizenship.
Haswani, who is close to the Syrian regime, was sanctioned alongside his company in 2015 by the U.S., which accused him of playing dangerous roles in the line of communication between the regime and ISIS, and buying oil from the latter, and selling it to the former.
It’s worth noting that Hesco Engineering and Construction was dissolved in November 2020, nearly 3 months after the Beirut Port explosion.
Savaro Limited has another address, the one officially presented to the UK authorities.
It shares this address with another company called IK Petroleum, which was established in 2013, less than a month before the bill of lading of the ammonium nitrate shipment was issued.
Like Hesco Engineering and Construction, IK Petroleum is owned by another Syrian-Russian businessman called Imad Khoury, who was also sanctioned by the U.S. in 2016 for supporting his brother, Mudallal Khoury.
Mudallal Khoury was himself sanctioned in 2015 by the U.S. for being allegedly involved in shady business, including attempting to transport ammonium nitrate in late 2013, around the same time the MV Rhosus ship entered Beirut.
Finally, the report reveals that the Khoury brothers and George Haswani were found to be among the clients of the Cyprus branch of the international commercial bank, FBME Bank.
The U.S. had blacklisted this bank for various reasons, including allegedly facilitating money laundering and terrorism funding.
Ship of Death is “the beginning of the attempt to find answers for everything that happened at Beirut Port from late 2013 until August 4th, 2020,” Firas Hatoum said in a brief appearance that immediately followed the airing of the investigative report.
He emphasized that an exclusively local and interior-focused investigation would, at best, yield an incomplete truth.
In Hatoum’s view, the most important goal for an investigation into the explosion, in order to reach the full truth, is to identify the origin of the ammonium nitrate shipment and how it reached Beirut.