The real owner of the ship at the core of the Beirut explosions investigation that offloaded the 2,750 tons of explosive ammonium nitrate at Beirut's port has links to the FBME Bank accused of acting as a money launderer for Hezbollah, according to a new investigative report by Der Spiegel.
The Rhosus tanker – impounded by Lebanese authorities in November 2013 and subsequently offloaded the ammonium nitrate in Beirut port – was initially believed to be owned by a Russian man named by Igor Grechushkin.
Der Spiegel and the journalism network called the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) found new documents that prove it was actually owned by Cypriot businessman Charalambos Manoli.
“In contrast to Grechushkin, the Russian who chartered the vessel, Manoli did have business relations in Lebanon. Court records show that Manoli took out a loan back in 2011 for $4 million from the Tanzanian FBME Bank to finance the purchase of another ship, the Sakhalin,” Der Spiegel reported.
The Rhosus cargo vessel owned by Manoli that reportedly offloaded the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at Beirut Port in 2013 showed its past routes across the several countries in the Mediterranean prior to its abandonment in the Lebanese capital a year later, according to ship-tracking service Marine Traffic.
In 2014, Cyprus, which took management of the Tanzanian FBME Bank (formerly known as Federal Bank of the Middle East), formally placed the local branch of FBME under administration, after concerns previously expressed by the United States that it was a conduit for money laundering for Islamist militants and Hezbollah.
FBME Bank Ltd. (FBME) was established in 1982 in Cyprus as the Federal Bank of the Middle East Ltd., a subsidiary of the private Lebanese bank, the Federal Bank of Lebanon.
“Illicit activities involving FBME included an FBME customer's receipt of a deposit of hundreds of thousands of dollars from a financier for Lebanese Hezbollah. As of early 2015, an alleged Hezbollah associate and the Tanzanian company he managed owned accounts at FBME,” read a final ruling from the US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) in 2016.
According to Der Spiegel’s report, internal documents from FBME showed that Manoli still owed 962,000 euros to the bank in outstanding debt as of October 2014.
“Manoli denies any connection between his debts and the fact that the freighter was stopped in Beirut. However, one investigator notes that FBME is notorious for pressuring defaulting borrowers into doing favors for dubious customers like Hezbollah,” Der Spiegel reported.
Lots of talk about the Rhosus, its movements in 2013 and 2014, and its possible involvement in yesterday's explosion in #Beirut. We've put together a heat map of the vessel’s movements during that time period.#BeirutExplosion pic.twitter.com/zzeDKRRcwY— MarineTraffic (@MarineTraffic) August 5, 2020
Questions surrounding the Rhosus connections have been raised in past weeks given its dubious history.
A heatmap of the Rhosus cargo vessel that reportedly offloaded the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at Beirut Port in 2013 showed its past routes across the several countries in the Mediterranean prior to its abandonment in the Lebanese capital a year later, according to ship-tracking service Marine Traffic.
According to Automatic Identification System (AIS) data in 2012, the Rhosus also changed its name ever so slightly at least five times in 2012.