Ownership of Chemicals that Exploded at Beirut Port Traces Back to Ukraine

A 12 months after an enormous cargo of ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut, an OCCRP investigation has settled one of the most important lingering questions: who really owned the cargo. A path of paperwork reveals a decades-old chemical-trading community managed by Ukrainians, hidden behind a veil of proxies and shell corporations.

Key Findings

  • A Ukrainian businessman named Volodymyr Verbonol and companions had been behind the corporate that owned the ammonium nitrate cargo.
  • The firm was half of a sprawling, decades-old community concerned in chemical buying and selling since at least the 2000s.
  • The community disguised its operations behind at least half a dozen commerce names and varied strawmen and shell firms.
  • Offshore service suppliers in Cyprus and the United Kingdom facilitated the community’s operations.

In the 12 months since an enormous cargo of ammonium nitrate exploded at Beirut port and devastated Lebanon’s capital, one of essentially the most primary questions has confirmed one of the toughest to reply: Who really owned the cargo?

Just after the blast, reporters found that a dormant London-registered firm known as Savaro Ltd had chartered the two,750-ton cargo in 2013, intending to ship it from Georgia to an explosives manufacturing unit in Mozambique.

Instead, the vessel carrying it, the MV Rhosus, was detained in Beirut over unpaid money owed and technical defects. The cargo sat in a warehouse till August 4, 2020, when it detonated in a single of the most important non-nuclear blasts in historical past, killing over 200 individuals and displacing greater than 300,000.

But determining simply who owns Savaro has turned out to be a problem. The firm’s true shareholders are hidden behind offshore nominee administrators and shareholders.

A Ukrainian businessman, Volodymyr Verbonol, who owned an organization of the identical title within the metropolis of Dnipro, got here underneath preliminary scrutiny. But after denying he had any connection to the Beirut cargo, he largely escaped additional consideration.

An investigation by OCCRP and its companions has now confirmed that Verbonol was certainly behind Savaro. Following a path of paperwork, journalists additionally discovered that the corporate was half of a bigger enterprise community that traded in technical-grade ammonium nitrate of the kind used to make explosives.

Based in Dnipro, Ukraine, the net of firms is owned and operated by a community of businesspeople together with Verbonol and his father-in-law, nationally distinguished building magnate Mykola Aliseyenko. But it has disguised its operations behind at least half a dozen commerce names and varied strawmen and shell firms spanning England, Scotland, the Caribbean, Ukraine, the South Pacific, and the United States.

The community has bought fertilizers and chemical substances to African international locations since at least the 2000s. Reporters additionally discovered that the community despatched at least three different shipments of ammonium nitrate to the Rhosus’ supposed vacation spot, Mozambique, in 2013. At least one Ukrainian firm within the community continues to market items on-line, together with fertilizers. Two offshore service suppliers that work with purchasers in former Soviet republics — the Cyprus-based Interstatus and the U.Ok.-based Alpha and Omega group of formation brokers — facilitated the community’s operations for years.

These findings paint the fullest image but of the individuals and entities behind the ammonium nitrate that exploded in Beirut. The matter might quickly have authorized implications, too. Last month, attorneys sued Savaro within the U.Ok. on behalf of the Beirut Bar Association and blast victims, arguing the corporate bore vital accountability for the catastrophe.

The complicated community behind the cargo additionally speaks to the delicate strategies routinely deployed in worldwide transport and commerce to obscure possession, in what specialists say is commonly a deliberate try to evade legal responsibility and facilitate prison or different underhanded enterprise practices.

People are seen with suitcases leaving Beirut after the explosion


People leaving Beirut after a catastrophic explosion that destroyed a lot of town’s northern neighbourhoods.

Camille Abousleiman, the lead lawyer within the London case towards Savaro, stated the corporate shared accountability for the explosion as a result of it was the authorized proprietor of the cargo and failed to take correct measures to retrieve the harmful supplies. He stated he hoped the case towards the corporate could be step one in holding all these liable for the catastrophe to account.

“Savaro and the individuals that management it have a accountability to guarantee that their cargo is saved correctly and isn’t a danger to individuals,” Mark Taylor, Senior Analyst at The Docket, an initiative of the Clooney Foundation for Justice, informed OCCRP.

“It’s not okay, underneath the worldwide human rights regime, to simply dump harmful chemical substances in a warehouse and stroll away.”

– Mark Taylor
Senior Analyst, The Docket

“It’s not okay, underneath the worldwide human rights regime, to simply dump harmful chemical substances in a warehouse and stroll away.”

In a press release despatched to reporters, the Ukrainian firms denied any involvement within the Rhosus cargo, and laid the blame for the Beirut blast on Lebanese authorities.

“The whole time, the road of enterprise of Atlantis Corporation, Savaro and Dniprosoft has been IT: the manufacturing of software program and Internet advertising and marketing,” the assertion stated, referring to the names of three Ukrainian firms within the community.

Online promoting for different items, similar to fertilizers, was achieved on behalf of their purchasers and was “posted by staff, and sometimes interns, who might not have absolutely understood that our firm was appearing on behalf of the producers,” they stated.

Savaro’s British lawyer, Richard Slade, didn’t reply to a request for remark.

🔗A Lack of Accountability

The August 2020 ammonium nitrate explosion pulverized import-dependent Lebanon’s predominant port, inflicted up to $8.1 billion of materials and financial harm on its capital metropolis, and helped tip a rustic already struggling due to corruption and mismanagement into an outright disaster.

Over a 12 months later, Lebanon is grappling with hyperinflation, drugs shortages, queues for gasoline, and frequent electrical energy blackouts. A wave of Lebanese at the moment are leaving the nation to discover a higher life overseas.

Many Lebanese imagine the nation’s political elite bear final accountability for the catastrophe, after proof emerged that authorities officers had been conscious of the dangers posed by the ammonium nitrate, however didn’t take away it.

So far solely low and mid-ranking port and customs officers have been charged. A neighborhood choose tried to cost senior officers with negligence, together with Prime Minister Hassan Diab, however the choose was eliminated in February after pushback from the nation’s political institution. A brand new choose has been appointed and is constant his inquiries.

Lebanese lawyer and human rights activist Ziyad Baroud, a former Minister of Interior and Municipalities, informed OCCRP that he by no means anticipated swift authorized choices to be made given the magnitude of the case.

More than a 12 months after the explosion, “we’re nonetheless speaking about authorized formalities and immunity with out stepping into the precise trial,” he stated.

Sea Shells

The Rhosus was chartered and its cargo was bought by two firms from the Savaro community: the London-registered Savaro Ltd, and one other known as Agroblend Exports (BVI) Ltd within the British Virgin Islands.

Documents Show How Savaro and Agroblend Were Linked to Beirut Cargo

Left: The July 2013 buy contract for the two,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate on board the MV Rhosus between Savaro Ltd UK and the Georgian fertilizer provider Rustavi Azot. Right: A remaining chartering doc, generally known as a “clear recap,” between a Savaro-linked firm, Agroblend Exports (BVI) Ltd, and the operators of the MV Rhosus.