British company found liable for Beirut Port blastMar 1, 2023
Savaro Ltd, a shell company reportedly operated by Ukrainian businesspeople, has been found responsible for the damages caused to over 200 victims.
First published in THE CRADLE February 24, 2023
UK-registered company Savaro Ltd has been found liable by London’s High Court of Justice for the Beirut Port blast that killed over 200 people on August 4, 2020.
The ruling calls for the “judgment on liability” to be entered “against the Defendant [Savaro] for an amount of damages to be assessed.”
“The UK court ruled that Savaro Ltd was liable for the damages caused to the victims based on Lebanese law and the legal grounds the claimants presented. It is a major step, as it is the first time a court holds an entity responsible for this tragedy,” former labor minister Camille Abousleiman, a senior lawyer at Dechert who is in charge of the case, told The National.
The Beirut Bar Association released the judgment, dated 1 February, on Thursday, hailing it as a “great achievement” for blast victims.
The catastrophic explosion – considered the largest non-nuclear blast in history – was caused by the ignition of 2,750 tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate.
Records show Savaro was transporting the ammonium nitrate to an explosives company in Mozambique in 2013 before the cargo was impounded at Beirut’s port over a dispute over unpaid transportation fees and the seaworthiness of the vessel transporting it.
According to an exclusive investigation by The Cradle columnist Radwan Mortada, the highly volatile substance was abandoned in the heart of Beirut for seven years due to negligence from the Lebanese army and the country’s judiciary.
“If the army had carried out its function, entrusted exclusively to Lebanon’s military under the country’s Weapons and Ammunition Law, by supervising the nitrate storage, destruction, or re-export, the devastating explosion would have been averted,” Mortada asserts.
“Similarly, if judges had done their job, a legally binding – not a political one – the decision would have ensured the destruction or immediate exportation of the explosive materials from Warehouse 12 in the Port of Beirut,” The Cradle columnist goes on to say.
Mortada’s declarations landed him a one-year prison sentence in absentia from Lebanon’s military court. No Lebanese official has been held accountable for the blast, as the local investigation is continuously obstructed and politicised by foreign interests.
However, the London High Court’s ruling says Savaro remained the legal owner of the ammonium nitrate and was responsible for its proper storage and any damage caused by it.
The ruling also argues that abandoning the dangerous chemicals in Beirut did not absolve the company of any duty of care.
Savaro – a shell company with few employees and no actual activities – has been trying to obtain its dissolution from the UK corporate registry Companies House since 2021, reportedly to evade responsibility for the tragedy.
“UK authorities halted the firm’s voluntary liquidation thanks to the lawsuit,” Abousleiman told reporters.
The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project [ https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/ownership-of-chemicals-that-exploded-at-beirut-port-traces-back-to-ukraine ] have previously reported that Savaro is part of a more extensive network of companies operated by Ukrainian businesspeople whose operations were obscured “behind at least half a dozen trade names and various strawmen and shell companies.”
Lawyers also consider the ruling against Savaro an “ultimatum” against the company after it failed to reveal its ultimate beneficial owner despite having been compelled by the court.
Last year, several of the victims’ families filed a $250 million lawsuit against the US–Norwegian firm TGS suspected of being involved in transferring the explosive material to the port.