* EU adds nine organisations, three people to sanctions list
* Refineries, government weapons-buying agencies also targeted (Adds statement from Tri-Ocean Energy)
By Adrian Croft
BRUSSELS, July 23 (Reuters) - The European Union on Wednesday froze the assets of two oil- trading firms accused of organising covert shipments of oil to Syria.
They were among nine organisations and three people added to the EU’s Syria sanctions list, published in the bloc’s Official Journal. Also listed were branches of the Syrian Defence Ministry.
The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been blacklisted by Western powers for its role in the country’s three-year civil war, which has killed at least 150,000 people, according to one monitoring group.
The two oil-trading firms were Beirut-based Oceans Petroleum Trading, also called Overseas Petroleum Trading or Overseas Petroleum Co., and Tri Oceans Trading, an Egyptian firm. Their assets in the 28-nation EU will be frozen.
Both are accused of “providing support to the Syrian regime and benefiting from the regime by organising covert shipments of oil to the Syrian regime,” the Official Journal said.
Reuters reported last December that the Syrian government was getting substantial imports of Iraqi crude oil from an Egyptian port. Such under-the-radar trading has kept Assad’s military running despite the Western sanctions.
Damascus relies heavily on strategic ally Iran as its main supplier of crude oil. But the Reuters examination of the documents showed that millions of barrels of crude delivered to Assad’s government on Iranian ships has actually come from Iraq, through Lebanese and Egyptian trading companies.
The documents seen by Reuters in December referred to at least four shipments by four tankers named Camellia, Daisy, Lantana and Clove, each of which is operated by Iran’s NITC. The documents say they carried Iraqi oil from Egypt’s Mediterranean port of Sidi Kerir to Syria.
Also according to the documents, Overseas Petroleum Trading invoiced Syria for arranging at least two shipments and was involved in a third. Cairo-based Tri-Ocean Energy was responsible for loading Iraqi oil into at least one. Both firms denied any involvement in the Syria trade last December.
Asked for comment, a spokesman for Tri-Ocean Energy referred Reuters to a June statement from the company in which the firm said it believed that Clove was a Tanzanian vessel whose final destination was Romania.
It said the crude oil it was carrying was sold to the purchaser on a free-onboard basis, meaning that liability for the oil was transferred from Tri-Ocean Energy to the buyer.
Tri-Ocean Energy did not charter the Clove and had no rights under international law to pursue any further action against the buyer, should Clove have subsequently delivered the crude oil to Syria, as alleged, the company said.
No comment from Overseas Petroleum Trading was immediately available.
State-owned Syrian refining companies put on the sanctions list were Baniyas Refinery Co and the Homs Refinery Co. The EU accuses them of providing financial support to the government.
Hashim Anwar al-Aqqad, a Syrian businessman and chairman of the Akkad Group of companies, was added to the list as well. The group operate in various sectors, including oil and gas. Aqqad is alleged to have provided support to and to benefited from the Syrian government.
Also added were a military commander, Colonel Suhayl Hasan, and Amr Armanazi, the head of a Syrian scientific centre, which the EU said had helped the Syrian army acquire equipment used for “surveillance and repression of demonstrators”. They are also banned from entering the EU.
The new listings bring to 192 the number of people sanctioned by the EU and to 62 the number of organisations. (Additional reporting by Julia Payne and David Sheppard in London; Editing by Larry King)