Exclusive: Danish bunker company involved in case of jet fuel for air strikes in Syria

Danish police are looking into possible sanctions violations by the company Dan-Bunkering.

(Foto: © Dr, DR)

The Danish company Dan-Bunkering plays a key role in a case involving illegal supplies of at least 30,000 metrics tons of jet fuel for the civil war in Syria, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) reports based on U.S. Court Records and confidential information possessed by Danish Authorities.

Dan-Bunkering is part of Bunker Holding A/S, which is the world’s second-largest bunker company.

According to the information, Dan-Bunkering has supplied jet fuel for the Russian shipping company Sovfracht which in turn has supplied Russian fighter planes in Syria; fighter planes that have carried out air strikes in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The deliveries allegedly took place from January 2016 to May 2017.

Breach of sanctions

The jet fuel transactions contravene EU Sanctions, according to several experts who have reviewed the information. EU Council Regulation 1323/2014 prohibits the sale, supply, transfer or export of jet fuel for use in Syria. It was implemented to stop Bashar al-Assad’s conduct and prevent attacks on civilians in Syria.

Senior Researcher Flemming Splidsboel Hansen of the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), who is specialized in Russian politics and sanctions, said the jet fuel supplies contravene the EU ban. - Based on the material presented to me, it seems clear that the company (Dan-Bunkering, editor’s note) has violated the imposed ban, he stated.

Thomas Elholm, Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Copenhagen, agreed.

- Basically, the ban has been violated. And if they knew it was destined for Syria, there is no doubt it is punishable by law, he said.

Police examines Dan-Bunkering

Danish police confirmed they are currently looking into possible violations of EU’s Syria sanctions by Dan-Bunkering. Chief superintendent Johnny Schou from Funen Police described the case as ‘very complex’ but declined further comment.

Several authority sources told DR that the Danish Business Authority, which oversees export controls, had reported Dan-Bunkering to the State Prosecutor for Serious Economic and International Crime.

The Danish Business Authority and the State Prosecutor declined to comment.

Dan-Bunkering is not identified by name in the U.S. Court Records which describe the company’s involvement in deliveries of 30,000 metric tons of jet fuel. Three Syrians and five Russians have been charged in the case for violations of the U.S. economic sanctions against Syria.

DR has independently confirmed Dan-Bunkering’s identity as well as additional information about the company’s role in the jet fuel deliveries based on key sources and confidential information possessed by Danish Authorities.

Dan-Bunkering has not been charged, indicted or convicted for violation of sanctions in the United States nor in Denmark.

In an e-mail to DR, Dan-Bunkering denied having violated EU rules.

Ship-to-ship transfers

The information in the case show that Dan-Bunkering played a part in at least six deliveries of jet fuel for use in Syria and that the company had been involved in jet fuel transactions amounting to more than 16 million US dollars.

On several occasions, a front company for Russian Sovfracht paid Dan-Bunkering for ship-to-ship transfers of jet fuel. The fuel was transferred from petroleum tankers to the Russian tankers Yaz and Mukhalatka which subsequently sailed to Assad-controlled Port Banias in Syria, according to descriptions in the U.S. Court Records. Ship location data collected by DR shows that the transshipments took place in the Mediterranean.

In a press release from May 2018, the Russian foreign ministry confirmed that Sovfracht had supplied jet fuel for Russian jet fighters conducting air raids in Syria. Jet fuel which, according to the U.S. Court Records and confidential information possessed by Danish Authorities, was obtained through Dan-Bunkering.

- The company (Dan-Bunkering, editor’s note) has thus literally helped fuel the conflict raging there. They helped enable the Russian air force to continue its operations, because it is obviously dependent on fuel supplies, said Flemming Splidsboel Hansen, DIIS.

A potential 6,000 air strikes

The 30,000 tons of jet fuel has enabled the Russian military to carry out around 6,000 air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad in 2016 and 2017, according to an estimate by Mikkel Storm Jensen who is a Military Analyst at the Royal Danish Defence College.

- 6,000 missions are a lot of missions. We’re talking about war supplies which have supported a vital element of Assad’s recapture of Syria at a time when he was about to lose the war. The Russian jet fighters enabled Assad to stop losing and start winning, said Mikkel Storm Jensen.

Payments from the Russian military

Besides information about jet fuel deliveries, the U.S. Court records also contain details about Dan-Bunkering’s communication with Sovfract. In September 2016, Dan-Bunkering received an email in which a front company for Sovfracht introduced itself as the “General Agent of the Russian Navy Fleet for managing all calls to Worldwide Ports." The Russian Navy Fleet is part of the Russian military which at the time was carrying out daily air strikes in Syria.

- This is a clear element that ought to have indicated to them (Dan-Bunkering, editor’s note) that the jet fuel could go to Syria. It could even prove that they did it knowingly, said Professor of Criminal Law Thomas Elholm.

Violation of EU Sanctions is punishable by imprisonment of up to four years under the Danish Criminal Code. Thomas Elholm stressed it is up to the courts to decide whether any criminal acts have been committed.

Flemming Splidsboel Hansen also took note that Dan-Bunkering was paid by a company representing the Russian military.

- This indicates that they may have knowingly acted as suppliers to the acts of war in Syria. It also confirms the suspicion that they have violated a ban. It is my immediate opinion that it will be hard for them to hide behind a claim of ignorance, he said.

Dan-Bunkering denies EU violation

Dan-Bunkering turned down a request for interview.

In an e-mail to DR, the company’s lawyer denied that Dan-Bunkering had violated EU Regulation and stated that Dan-Bunkering had not delivered jet fuel to Syria or to a company on the EU sanctions list.

Despite repeated inquiries over several weeks, the company has not answered DR’s questions about whether Dan-Bunkering has been involved in supplying jet fuel for use in Syria which was transshipped to Russian tankers and subsequently delivered to Syria.

In response to the statement from the Danish police obtained by DR, Dan-Bunkering’s lawyer stated that since Dan-Bunkering has not been charged with anything, “it is difficult to imagine that there is a case pending with the police.”

A representative for Russian Sovfracht confirmed the company had done business with Dan-Bunkering but declined further comment when asked about jet fuel deliveries to Syria.

The owner of the Russian tankers Yaz and Mukhalatka did not respond to request for comment.