US-sanctioned Syrian shipping tycoon sentenced to jail for lying to UK court

Abdul Jalil Mallah, who is accused by the US of financing the Houthis, is found in contempt of court in dispute over ownership of two vessels

The Courage is one of the ships at the centre of the court case. Photo:
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A Syrian shipping tycoon, accused by the US of financing the Houthis and sending oil to Hezbollah, has been handed a jail sentence in the UK for lying to a court.

Abdul Jalil Mallah is sanctioned as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for his alleged involvement in deals that the US Treasury claims were worth “millions of dollars”.

Sanctions on the Houthis and an associate of Mr Mallah, Sa’id al-Jamal, have been ramped up in recent months, since the Yemen-based group began carrying out attacks on western shipping in the Red Sea.

Mr Mallah, 49, found himself taken to court in London by a US-company, Oaktree Capital Management, in a bid to recover two ships it had lent him money to buy, after it ended the deal in the wake of him being placed under sanctions.

Judge Sara Cockerill has now ruled Mr Mallah “quite deliberately lied to the court” in the case and provided “multiple false statements”, which included forged documents.

She sentenced him to 18 months in jail for contempt of court after she said he appeared to show no remorse for his actions.

OCM had provided finance for one of Mr Mallah’s companies to buy the two ships, which were then chartered by other businesses he owned, a type of deal common in the shipping world.

But when he was hit with sanctions in 2021, OCM moved to repossess the ships and eventually went to the High Court in London, which found in its favour and awarded them costs of £1 million.

He initially failed to respond to a court order to declare his assets and, when he did, gave a witness statement claiming he had not received the notice in Greece, where he was living at the time.

Mr Mallah even submitted forged documents purporting to be from the Greek authorities showing he had left the country before the notice was served, which led to a contempt of court hearing.

Judge Cockerill said it was “inherently implausible” the Greek authorities would provide personalised documents saying he has left the country and that inquiries via Interpol found these to be “counterfeit”.

Mr Mallah also made “demonstrably false” claims not to be the beneficial owner of properties in Sweden and Greece.

She found him guilty of three of the four counts he faced, including making a false statement to the court regarding his whereabouts and failing to disclose his assets.

Mr Mallah’s evidence has “been thoroughly discredited” and he “can have no justification” for his actions, said the judge, adding that there has been “no question” of acknowledging his guilt or any offer to rectify what he’s done.

Judge Cockerill also ordered a confiscation of all Mr Mallah’s assets in the UK and a warrant has been issued for his arrest as he is now living in Syria.

One of the vessels in the dispute, the Amethyst, was repossessed in Sharjah but the other, the Courage, sailed on to Syrian waters.

Both the OCM-owned companies and Mr Mallah’s are all registered in the Marshall Islands.

According to the US authorities, Mr Mallah facilitated transactions worth millions of dollars to Swaid and Sons, a Yemen-based exchange house associated with the Houthis.

He has worked with Sa’id al-Jamal to send millions of dollars’ worth of Iranian crude oil to Hezbollah.

Al-Jamal, an Iran-based Houthi financial supporter, directs a network of front companies and vessels that smuggle Iranian fuel, petroleum products and other commodities to customers throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The US Treasury says “a significant portion of the revenue generated from these sales is directed through a complex international network of intermediaries and exchange houses to the Houthis”.

Mr Mallah has been placed under sanctions for having “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Sa’id al-Jamal”.

In March, the US issued fresh sanctions targeting two companies and two vessels that the Treasury Department said had facilitated commodities shipments on behalf of Mr al-Jamal

The action targets two Hong Kong and Marshall Islands-based ship owners and two vessels for their role in shipping commodities.

In February, Mr al-Jamal was also placed under sanctions by the UK along with units of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps for enabling the work of the Houthis.

Mr Mallah has been approached by The National for comment.

Updated: May 30, 2024, 3:39 PM