‘Damascus contacts Turks to sell 800,000 barrels of crude’

Amid a prolonged crisis that has battered the economy and infrastructure within their »»

Amid a prolonged crisis that has battered the economy and infrastructure within their tumultuous country, Syrian businessmen are secretly contacting several companies and businessmen in Turkey to sell a huge amount of oil -- 800,000 barrels in one sale -- a source told Today's Zaman on Tuesday.

A few Turkish companies that have trade ties with private Syrian firms close to the Assad regime recently contacted a Turkish businessman, asking him to consider acquiring oil from Damascus.

The businessman, who spoke to Today's Zaman on condition of anonymity, said Syria has been hammering out alternative ways to heal its economic woes, which have worsened with the crippling Western and Arab sanctions on the conflict-ridden country. As part of efforts to overcome the sanctions, the Syrian government is desperately looking for a consumer -- whether a state, a company or a group of businessmen -- to which it can sell its oil. Observers cite the urgent need for cash to finance new weapons in order to clamp down on the year-long rebellion that has now become a major issue for the Assad government.

Given that background, the businessman said the Syrian government is being very cautious, making these efforts through the private sector, behind the scenes, so as to avert a possible political crisis with the Turkish government. “Therefore, Syrian businessmen, on behalf of the regime, are contacting Turkish businessmen in Turkey through partners they trust ?????,” he said.

The businessman said he was asked by his Syrian counterparts to help find a Turkish customer for oil from the southern neighbor. “I would take 20 percent of the money if I were to find a consumer to buy 800,000 barrels of oil in a single sale.”

Although the quantity is very high, so is the stake that has been offered him.

In response to a question via which route a Turkish company may bring Syrian oil into Turkey if a secret deal is inked, he said: “The Turkish company may choose not to transfer the oil into the country, considering the high risks. Instead, it may directly transfer the oil to Europe through Lebanon, provided it finds a third party [buyer] in Europe.”

If a company were to bring the oil to Turkey, it could use Iraq or Iran as possible transport routes, he said, adding that the delivery of 800,000 barrels of oil to Turkey would be an almost impossible task as such a volume of oil would not escape the attention of Turkish border officials.

The EU stepped up sanctions against Syria with an oil embargo last December and banned European companies from investing in or conducting business with the Syrian oil industry. However, the businessman claimed that some companies are defying the ban and continue trade with Syria, “especially in the oil business, through various channels.”

“The Syrian government brings offers that cannot be refused given the dire situation in European markets. … Some companies in Europe may not say no to those deals.”

He added that he would not like to be involved in such a deal, citing ethical concerns. “I cannot remain indifferent to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and take advantage of that.”