By Arabian Post Staff
Amidst the latest Lebanese crisis, alleged fuel smuggling to Syria has been a recurring theme in both traditional media as well as social media platforms. All Lebanese petroleum importing companies such as Total, Uniterminal, Hypco, Medco, IPT, Wardieh, Liquigas, and Coral have been accused of corruption and smuggling of fuel. In view of the importance of the subject as well as its implications for the Lebanese-Arab-international interests, the Arabian Post interviewed Oscar Yamin, chairman and CEO of The Coral Oil Company Limited.
Yamin, shareholder and Chairman of A. Yamin Group, The Coral Oil Company Limited (UK) and Liquigas-Liban SAL, is a Lebanese entrepreneur and businessman with deep linkages with the petroleum industry. He sits on the board of directors of several other companies as well. The group presently employs more than 800 persons, actively supporting the Lebanese economy in one of the harshest crises the country has ever witnessed. Backed up experience in seeing through several oil crises in Lebanon throughout the years, Yamin has also been a significant player in proposing multiple plans to the government, with short-term and long-term strategic solutions.
In the interview, Yamin dealt with a number of questions related to the oil smuggling allegations. Here is the complete text of the interview:
Your company, among others, has recently faced allegations of smuggling fuel to Syria. A video allegedly showing some of your company’s trucks smuggling fuel into Syria went viral on YouTube and Facebook. Is this true?
Thank you for the opportunity to address this particular matter. Let me say that this allegation is entirely false. The objective of these baseless and misleading allegations was to damage our company’s reputation, so I am happy to address them.
How do you say the allegation of fuel smuggling into Syria is false?
First of all, this video was filmed inside Lebanese territory. The Coral trucks in question were heading to Lebanon’s Beqaa in a region that is 70 km away from the Syrian border. This video painted a narrative that our trucks were headed into Syria, which is blatantly wrong.
The person who filmed the video and originally posted it on social media has several criminal precedents, including many arrest warrants in Lebanon.
He, later on, retracted his false allegations and deleted the videos that he posted; however, the video had been broadly shared, causing damage to our company’s reputation.
Has the Lebanese government investigated these fuel smuggling allegations?
Yes, it has. The Lebanese Army and the Lebanese General Security Directorate held intensive investigations into this matter. After their investigations, Coral and Liquigas and other importing companies were proven to be not related to any of these false and harmful allegations. They rendered written statements evidencing that Coral and Liquigas are not involved, which your esteemed publication is free to review.
Moreover, in August2021, the Financial Prosecutor in Beirut- Judge Ali Ibrahim, issued his decision on the smuggling case by dismissing and closing the case against Coral and Liquigas. They were not involved with any smuggling. I am happy to provide you with a copy of the verdict.
So, we understand that “Coral” was not the only oil company accused of such allegations. Did any other oil-importing company take any action to stop these allegations as you did?
Indeed, other leading oil-importing companies were also victims of these acts. These false and dangerous accusations could have potentially influenced the US Department of State to sanction these companies and ours in relation to the Caesar Law for fuel smuggling to Syria.
This highly alarming situation induced Mr. Maroun Chammas, the President of the Association of Petroleum Importing Companies in Lebanon (APIC) and the chairman and CEO of Medco, who is a respected Lebanese entrepreneur and businessman, to immediately email the US Embassy in Lebanon, requesting it to issue a statement to negate these false allegations, so that the importing companies can proceed with their work, focus on their business and serve the local market.
I would like to emphasize that most Lebanese companies importing petroleum products,
owning and operating their terminals along the Lebanese coast, are all respectable institutions that do not get involved in smuggling. They are subject to the supervision of the Ministry of Energy and the General Customs Directorate, especially if we take into account the mechanism adopted by the Customs Directorate to ensure the supply of diesel to the end-users in Lebanon.
The customs representative checks the delivery documents issued by the companies annexed to a detailed document on each customer’s name, address, and phone number. The delivery document also determines the hour of departure from the company and the hour of reaching the end-user customer in any region. In the event of a mismatch, Customs are notified of the truck’s number and the region in which the malfunction has occurred, and all distributors are urged to commit to selling diesel and gasoline to their customers, including service stations, generator owners, factories, farmers, bakeries and hospitals only.
In a nutshell, each litre of diesel requires the Customs’ permission to be released and delivered to any client. The Customs have the full right to reject any delivery order and impose a Veto on any doubtful customer anytime. Note that once the goods are out of the terminal, the liability falls under the Local Security Authorities.
Was Coral’s reputation damaged in any way because of these false allegations?
The negative media can always mislead public opinion, but in the end, our group reputation could not be affected as we conduct our work with complete transparency.
Despite those misleading campaigns, Coral and Liquigas are highly regarded by public opinion. Our reputation is demonstrated through our significant increase in clients, the numerous positive media articles, letters of appreciation, and many calls fully supporting us and condemning the false allegations.
How did Coral and Liquigas manage to deal with this?
Due to its international exposure and relationship with international parties such as banks and foreign suppliers, Coral was asked to clarify some misleading media reports.
In this regard, the company replied to all received requests from US Corresponding Banks, International Banks, International Suppliers, Traders, International Lubes partners such as BP, Mobil, and even non-governmental organizations with no previous relationship with Coral. All of them were satisfied with the clarifications we provided with supporting documents from the Lebanese Security Forces and proper judicial authorities, conducted their due diligence, and ensured the continuity of their commercial business activities with Coral.
Moreover, Coral and Liquigas remain in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations and the requirements of the United States and the United Kingdom.
What is your relationship with the Embassies of the mentioned countries?
Since Coral is a branch of a UK-based company, the UK and USA embassies in Lebanon are thoroughly and regularly briefed by Coral with updates, official documents, and evidence to refute any damaging media allegations.
On top of this, I was recently invited to talk in the “Overseas Security Advisory Council” (OSAC), a partnership between the US Department of State and the private sector community. This event was held in the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Officers Club, in the presence of the LAF Commander-in-Chief, the General Director of the Internal Security Forces, and other leading security and safety personnel. At the invitation of the US embassy, I gladly attended to present my views regarding the latest energy sector crisis.
In addition to the Lebanese Army Commander-in-Chief and the General Director of the Internal Security Forces Lebanese defence and security personnel, the event hosted selected representatives of foreign embassies in Lebanon, the US Department of Defense, and Senators from the US Senate.
This event by itself is a denial of the wrong and untrue allegations against our companies.