January 23, 2022

Danish company sentenced for selling kerosene to Russians in Syria

The headquarters of the Danish group Bunker Holding with Bunker One and Dan-Bunkering in Middelfart, Denmark, October 22, 2021 (Claus Fisker / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP / Archives)

A Danish fuel trading company and its CEO were convicted on Tuesday for delivering large quantities of kerosene destined for the Russian Air Force to Syria in a rare lawsuit for violating the Western embargo on the country.

The Odense court, where the trial had been held since October, “established that the deliveries were objective violations of European sanctions” targeting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, according to its ruling.

Convicted of having sold 33 times between 2015 and 2017 a total of 172,000 tonnes of kerosene approximately to two Russian companies, the company Dan-Bunkering and its parent company Bunker Holding were sentenced to 34 million crowns (4.6 million euros) fine.

These large quantities of fuel, worth nearly 90 million euros, were then delivered to Syria, where they were used to supply Russian fighter jets deployed in the country, according to Danish justice.

Bunker Holding CEO Keld Demant was given a suspended four-month prison sentence. He left the court without commenting, noted an AFP journalist.

The lawyers of the company and its leader pleaded for the release, believing that they could not control the use made by their Russian clients, who were not themselves subject to sanctions.

At each of the 33 orders, the business manager “should have realized that it was extremely likely that the kerosene would be used by the Russian army in Syria”, however estimated the court.

“Historical”

The Danish company carried out the orders through its office in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, the two Russian companies had never ordered kerosene from Bunker Holding before the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015 and Mr. Demant knew that they were suppliers to the Russian army, the Court noted in particular.

The deliveries, which took place between October 2015 and May 2017, took place in the eastern Mediterranean, sometimes in ship-to-ship transfers. Russian customers then unloaded the cargo at the Syrian port of Banias, according to the court.

Refueling a Boeing 747 at Roissy, July 20, 2006
Refueling a Boeing 747 at Roissy, July 20, 2006 (JACK GUEZ / AFP / Archives)

In this rare trial for violation of the European embargo in Syria, the prosecution had requested two years in prison against the leader of the group and 400 million crowns fine, or more than 50 million euros.

Defense lawyers “have yet to make a decision” on a possible appeal, Dan Bunkering’s lawyer Jacob Skude Rasmussen told reporters.

In a statement, Dan Bunkering stressed that neither the CEO nor the two companies had been found guilty of intentionally violating the European embargo, and that the sentences were “significantly” less than the requisitions.

Asked by AFP, prosecutor Anders Rechendorff said he was “very satisfied” and described the judgment as “historic”.

“The kerosene was delivered to Syria and put in the Russian fighter planes which bombed in favor of President Assad. It is very serious and for this reason, it is a historic judgment”, he estimated.

“As far as Dan Bunkering is concerned, the court ruled that they were aware (of the purpose) of the 33 deliveries from the start of this period. So, of course, I am very satisfied with the verdict,” added the prosecutor.

European sanctions against the Syrian regime, in force since the end of 2011 and currently extended until June 1, 2022, include an oil embargo and a freeze of assets held by the Syrian central bank in the EU.