The Public Prosecutor's Office at the Court of Cassation in Lebanon ordered, on Friday, the sealing of the Syrian-flagged ship, the Laodicea, which docked at the port of Tripoli in North Lebanon the previous day, carrying grains that, according to Kyiv, were stolen from Ukraine by Russia. Moscow has denied the charge.
According to a handwritten official document, a copy of which the Lebanese channel LBCI obtained, prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat transferred the case to State Security. Oueidat ordered the "seizure of the ship until the end of the investigation," added an official speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity. The Ukrainian Embassy in Beirut said Friday that a judge in Ukraine has issued a ruling to seize the vessel docked in Lebanon and the cargo on board. In a statement to Reuters, the embassy added that in the case of confiscation of the cargo of the ship, Ukraine is ready to negotiate with Lebanon regarding the terms of its transfer to Lebanon.
On Friday, while the ship in question was inspected by the Lebanese authorities, caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, said that "Lebanon is not yet in a position to determine where the food [aboard the ship] came from." He added that "Lebanon has received a number of complaints and warnings from several Western countries" following the arrival of the Laodicea.
According to the Ukrainian Embassy in Beirut, the Laodicea, a ship sanctioned by the United States, is carrying flour and barley "stolen by Russia from Ukrainian warehouses." In response to the Ukrainian Embassy's accusations, the Russian Embassy in Lebanon denied Friday any knowledge of the cargo ship in question. An official of a Turkey-based grain trading company also denied Friday that the barley and flour on board the ship were stolen from Ukraine, saying the source of the flour was Russia. The head of Loyal Agro Co LTD, who declined to be identified by name, told Reuters that the company had sought to import 5,000 tons of flour aboard the ship into Lebanon to sell to private buyers, not the Lebanese government.
On Thursday, the Ukrainian Embassy had told Reuters that the ship traveled from a port in Crimea that is closed to international shipping. "It is carrying 5,000 tons of barley and 5,000 tons of flour that we suspect were taken from Ukrainian stores [...] This is the first time a cargo of stolen grain and flour has reached Lebanon," it had said. Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Ostash had told Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday that the purchase of stolen Ukrainian goods would "harm bilateral relations" between Kyiv and Beirut.
The Laodicea is one of a trio of ships owned by the Syrian port authority that Ukraine claims are carrying stolen flour from warehouses in Ukrainian territory recently occupied by Russia. Moscow had previously denied allegations of Ukrainian grain theft. The three ships have been under US sanctions since 2015.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.