EU targets Syrian middleman it says bought oil from Islamic State

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 08, 2015 7:47 AM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union has imposed sanctions on a Syrian businessman who it says has bought oil for Syria from Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that the government in Damascus has declared to be its enemy.

Adding to its list of sanctions on supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the EU said that George Haswani worked as an intermediary to agree oil contracts between Syria and Islamic State, which rules a self-declared caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.

"George Haswani provides support (for) and benefits from the regime through his role as a middleman in deals for the purchase of oil from ISIL (Islamic State) by the Syrian regime," the EU said in its official journal without detailing how it reached its conclusion.

"He has close ties to the Syrian regime," the EU said, adding that Haswani also goes by the names Al Hasawani and Heswani.

Haswani's HESCO Engineering & Construction Co is a major business in Syria, the EU said.

Neither Haswani, who the EU says is based in Yabroud near Syria's border with Lebanon, nor his company could be reached for comment on Sunday.

Western officials have often accused the Syrian government of buying oil from Islamic State, but the EU's announcement this weekend contains some of the most detailed public accusations to date and was welcomed by Britain's Foreign Minister Philip Hammond.

"This listing gives yet another indication that Assad’s 'war' on ISIL is a sham and that he supports them financially," Hammond said in a statement.

A February report by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force said that Islamic State had generated large amounts of money by appropriating oil fields and from criminal activity such as theft and extortion.

The United Nations Security Council, meanwhile, threatened sanctions on anyone buying oil from Islamic State. In November the U.N. estimated the group's revenue from oil ranged between $846,000 to $1.6 million a day.

Degrading the group's financial resources is one aspect of a campaign led by the United States to destroy Islamic State, ranging from military attacks to counter-propaganda.

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The EU's sanctions were extended to a total of 13 people and organizations, including Hawasani, adding to a previous list of more than 200 individuals and 60 entities.

Those on the list have their assets in the EU frozen and are barred from entry to the bloc.

Some EU states have pressed for more dialogue with Assad, who has survived four years of armed revolt and now faces an enemy, in the form of Islamic State, whom Western powers also want to defeat.

But the bloc's main military powers, France and Britain, oppose restoring relations with Damascus.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Tom Perry; Editing by David Goodman)