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Panama Papers Reveals Syrian War Funding
Since the start of Syria’s war in 2011, tens of thousands of people have been killed and thousands of homes destroyed in air raids and barrel bomb strikes. These war crimes have been well documented for many years but after leak of Panama papers, the companies that were using the offshore tax havens were accused of supplying fuel to Syrian airforce. As a result in 2014, multiple government including the UK and the US issued bans in doing business with these companies. An alarming list of clients of Panama based law firm Mosaack Fonseca were involved in bribery, arms deals, tax evasions, financial frauds and drug trafficking. In general, Syria’s regime has been able to avoid international sanctions and fund its war effort through shell companies. Le Monde had reported that three Syrian companies: Pangates International, Maxima Middle East Trading, and Morgan Additives Manufacturing, used the services of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca to create shell companies in the Seychelles. The three firms are under US sanctions for allegedly providing petroleum supplies to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime which were likely to be used by his military, including aviation fuel. The newspaper said that the leaked documents reveal that Mossack Fonseca continued to work with at least one of the companies, Pangates, until at least nine months after the sanctions were announced.
Image source: Daily Star
Pangates International Corporation Ltd, belongs to the Damascus-based Abdulkarim group, which is close to the Syrian government. It is a petroleum products specialist headquartered in the UAE that had been a Mossack Fonseca customer for more than a decade. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) put Pangates on its blacklist in July 2014, charging that Pangates had supplied the Syrian government with 1,000 metric tons of “avgas” – which is aviation fuel necessary to operate military aircraft. OFAC also sanctioned two other Mossack Fonseca clients with alleged ties to the Abdulkarim Group or its Directors – Maxima Middle East Trading Co. and Morgan Additives Manufacturing Co. OFAC had identified Ahmad Barqawi as General Manager of Maxima Middle East Trading and Wael Abdulkarim as Pangates’ Managing Director. It also said that Wael Abdulkarim had “worked to arrange numerous shipments of base oils and aviation gasoline to Syria.” However, a representative of Morgan Additives told International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that the basis of its blacklisting by OFAC was “in error.”
Image Source: ABC News (Australia)
Lastly, Panama files also reveal that Mossack Fonseca worked with Rami Makhlouf, a notorious cousin of Assad. Makhlouf, who is currently facing sanctions as having registered companies in tax havens. As early as 2008, US Treasury officials imposed sanctions on Makhlouf and identified him as a “regime insider” who “improperly benefits from and aids the public corruption of Syrian regime officials.” In 2010, British Virgin Island authorities demanded information on Drex Technologies SA, a company owned by Makhlouf that Mosaack Fonseca had incorporated ten years earlier. Mossack Fonseca employees eventually found information that had circulated widely for years, including details of Makhlouf’s political ties and smuggling. In 2011, the Panamian law firm cut ties with Makhlouf, just after the outbreak of the revolt calling for Assad’s ouster. Panama papers has certainly solved some of the mysteries of how Assad’s government was successfully able to fund its war crime over the last few years through shell firms.
Main Image Source: Aljazeera.