Ethiopian-Canadian Omer Badreddine helped set up the structure that bought the 32-millimetre mortar shells his company is accused of smuggling into Syria and shipping across to the Islamic State (ISIS).
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported that Badreddine was behind a Lebanese-based logistics company set up in 2013 by Adam Bakri, a Lebanese businessman and property developer from Beirut. Bakri, who also ran a company called NIBO Africa Mining Ltd, was sanctioned by the US government in June 2018 for allegedly being a key channel of fundraising for the Syrian regime.
Previous investigations have shown the extensive connections between Bakri and Assad’s regime.
The Canadian government’s inquiry into Badreddine and Bakri was launched after Badreddine’s name surfaced in separate Canadian investigations as a key link in the scheme to send hundreds of mortar shells into Syria. One alleged shell company used by Bakri in the project was called Slag International Shipping Services, Inc., named after a cartel organised by Badreddine to deliver weapons to Syria.
The inquiry is ongoing and Canadian authorities declined to answer our questions on how and why Badreddine was kept on the list of Canadians sanctioned by Canada, despite his links to Bakri.
When I made a series of enquiries with the officials responsible for the inquiry about Badreddine’s suspected involvement, after being put in touch with a spokesperson for the Canadian assistant minister of foreign affairs who is the taskforce member in charge of the case, the Canadian authorities told me the “investigation is in progress”.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has published details of the nature of Badreddine’s connection to Bakri’s Slag subsidiary, operating in violation of sanctions, in a secret court document filed with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague. Our evidence shows Badreddine met Bakri in November 2012 in London and agreed to work with him “to remove cement blocks from Israel and stockpile them for shipment to Syria”. Badreddine planned to fly three pallets of concrete blocks out of Malta, shipping them to Cyprus via Dubai.
Badreddine was also looking to buy mortar rounds to deliver to the Syrian army and was keen to pay Slag the equivalent of more than $900,000 for a dozen rounds of 32mm mortar ammunition.
The details of Badreddine’s connection to the Bakri and Franskozy companies, and to his alleged involvement in Slag and Bakri’s network of shell companies, emerged during a tender process administered by the Irish police to be set up to find a means to lawfully import cement blocks for the Syrian government. The Irish force – the Garda Siochana – refused to investigate Badreddine or Slag’s apparent connection to Bakri. When asked for an explanation, the Garda said “contrary to policy, we do not comment on either the European Union or national investigations. It may well be incorrect but we have no right to comment on the findings of a state regulator unless it is resolved.”
Badreddine has been charged with fraud, laundering terrorist-related funds and conspiracy to commit the crimes. He was arrested in Beirut in January 2016 and remains in the Rades prison in Beirut. His trial has yet to begin.
This story is part of the British Guardian Media Group s Investigative Journalism project.