While EU sanctions on Syria do not explicitly prohibit phosphate imports, they do ban deals with the Syrian minister of oil and mineral resources, who is in charge of phosphates. European companies also risk running afoul of the global reach of US sanctions on the Syrian government. Meanwhile, Timchenko was one the first oligarchs added to UK and EU sanctions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
So European companies are paying a convoluted network of shell companies and middlemen to buy Syrian phosphates, which are surreptitiously shipped on vessels such as the Sea Navigator.
Official trade records show that Spain, Poland, Italy and Bulgaria all recently began importing Syrian phosphates. Serbia and Ukraine, which also apply EU sanctions on Syria as part of their agreements with the bloc, are also major buyers.
When asked about the imports, companies and government agencies said they did not violate sanctions because Syrian phosphates are not specifically outlawed, and they are not dealing directly with people under sanctions.