site.btaOCCRP: Sanctioned War Profiteers Benefit from Import of Syrian Phosphates in Europe, Bulgaria Included
European countries, including Bulgaria, have recently resumed imports of phosphate - a key ingredient in fertilizers - from Syria, and this trade enriches sanctioned oligarchs, war profiteers, and the Syrian government, according to a new investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). Bulgaria's Bivol.bg has participated in the investigation and published the story on its website.
The importers include Serbia and Ukraine, as well as EU Member States Italy, Bulgaria, Spain, and Poland.
These countries have imported over USD 80 million worth of Syrian phosphates since 2019,
The OCCRP journalists have found that a wide variety of proxies and middlemen are used to obscure involvement in the trade. Ships importing Syrian phosphates showed a pattern of switching off tracking data. Security firms linked to sanctioned war profiteers benefit from this business. Senior figures from Gennady Timchenko's Stroytransgaz worked for companies operating in Syria, despite Stroytransgaz's denials that the companies were connected.
Syria has some of the largest known reserves of the increasingly sought-after fertilizer ingredient. The phosphate industry collapsed when Islamic State militants seized the country's largest mines in 2015, but production has revived since government forces recaptured them the following year, attracting buyers even from countries opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The phosphates make their way from regions torn apart by civil war to farmers across Europe. Every step of the way, the trade enriches the Syrian state, war profiteers, and people with deep ties to Russia's elite, despite the US- and EU-imposed sanctions on both the Syrian government and the Russian company that appears to control much of Syria's phosphate exports, Stroytransgaz. But neither the USA nor the EU specifically prohibit the purchase of Syrian phosphates.
Experts say companies still run the risk of violating sanctions even if the phosphates trade is technically legal.
Asked about the imports, the EU Commission said it was up to individual countries to decide whether Syrian phosphate imports break sanctions. Authorities in Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Serbia confirmed they regard the trade as legal. Italian authorities did not respond to requests for comment.
In Bulgaria, Syrian phosphates are imported by a company called Fertix EOOD, whose managing director said he had sold some of the Syrian phosphates to EuroChem Agro Bulgaria, a subsidiary of Eurochem Group AG, which is connected to Russian billionaire Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko. Melnichenko, who was sanctioned by the EU and the UK for supporting Russia's war on Ukraine, recently withdrew from the company's board.