Two Danish Bunkering Firms Sentenced for Fueling War in Syria
On Tuesday, a Danish court ruled that bunker supplier Dan-Bunkering is guilty of breaching EU sanctions on the Syrian government for providing fuel to Russian intermediaries. The CEO of parent company Bunker Holding, Keld Demand, has been handed a four-month suspended prison sentence, and Dan-Bunkering has been fined nearly $5 million - plus an additional profit confiscation of $2 million.
In 2015-17, Dan-Bunkering employees conducted nearly three dozen transactions with Russian buyers, selling them consignments of jet fuel. According to prosecutors, these parcels were allegedly diverted to Syria in violation of EU sanctions on the Syrian government.
The prosecution asserted that Dan-Bunkering's employees should have known that there was a high risk that the fuel would end up in Syria, where it was used to propel Russian fighter jets in support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's war effort. Russian air support was a critical component of al-Assad's successful operation to retake Aleppo from rebel forces in 2015-16; the air campaign racked up accusations of war crimes, including an alleged pattern of air strikes on civilian hospitals, markets and schools.
On-scene video from the joint Russian/Syrian bombing campaign over Aleppo, September-October 2016 (HRW)
The court concluded that Dan-Bunkering should have "realized it was overwhelmingly probable" that this would be the final use for the fuel, and that such a use would violate EU sanctions on Syria.
Prosecutors had sought a two-year sentence for Keld Demand and a combined $60 million in fines for Dan-Bunkering and Bunker Holding, and the final sentencing levels were much lower. However, the sentences were still unusual for a white-collar crime case, according to criminal law specialist Prof. Thomas Elholm of the University of Copenhagen.
"It is an unusual case because the court has given very large fines and custodial sentences to a [corporate] director. It is conditional, but still a custodial sentence," Elholm told DR. "The verdict may have significance later for other cases, because it is one of the first verdicts to determine the level of punishment. That way it is a special case."
In a statement, Dan-Bunkering and Bunker Holding said that they would be considering the court's ruling and making a determination on whether to file an appeal. In addition, they noted that only Dan-Bunkering had been convicted of a deliberate breach of sanctions, not Bunker Holding or its CEO, which were convicted only of negligence.