LONDON: The Syrian government has received substantial imports of Iraqi crude oil from an Egyptian port in the last nine months, shipping and payment documents show, part of an under-the-radar trade that has kept President Bashar Assad’s military running despite Western sanctions.
Assad’s government has been blacklisted by Western powers, forcing Damascus to rely on strategic ally Iran – itself the target of sanctions over its nuclear program – as its main crude oil supplier.
Previously undisclosed commercial documents about Syrian oil purchases, however, show that Iran is no longer acting alone. Millions of barrels of crude delivered to Assad’s government on Iranian ships have actually come from Iraq, through Lebanese and Egyptian trading companies, the documents show.
The trade, which is denied by the firms involved, has proven lucrative, with companies demanding steep premiums in return for bearing the risk of shipping oil to Syria.
It also highlights a previously undisclosed role of Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon in Assad’s supply chain, despite those countries’ restrictions on assisting his government.
Both the Syrian national oil company that received the oil, Sytrol, and the Iranian shipping operator that delivered it, the National Iranian Tanker Co., are on U.S. and EU sanctions lists barring them from doing business with U.S. or European firms, cutting them off from the U.S. and EU financial systems and freezing their assets.
Although firms outside the U.S. and EU aren’t subject to their sanctions, companies that do business with firms on sanctions lists risk themselves being blacklisted.
At least four firms from the third-party countries added to the U.S. Treasury’s sanctions list for Iran when it was last updated on Dec. 12 were punished specifically “for providing material support to NITC,” the Treasury said.
“We have been very focused on targeting Iranian attempts to aid the Assad regime through economic as well as military means,” a Treasury Department spokesman said. The documents refer to at least four shipments by four different tankers named Camellia, Daisy, Lantana and Clove, each operated by Iran’s NITC and, say the documents, that carried Iraqi oil from Egypt’s Mediterranean port of Sidi Kerir to Syria.
According to the documents, Beirut-based trading firm Overseas Petroleum Trading invoiced Syria for arranging at least two of the shipments and was involved in a third, while a Cairo-based firm, Tri-Ocean Energy, was responsible for loading Iraqi oil into at least one.
Both OPT and Tri-Ocean denied any involvement in the Syria trade, declining to offer an alternative explanation for what the documents and ship tracking data show.