British MPs seek probe of company linked to Beirut blast

Woman registered as sole owner of Savaro Ltd says there is another owner who cannot be named

A still taken from video footage of the explosion at Beirut port on August 4, 2020.
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Two senior British parliamentarians have called for an investigation into a British-registered company possibly linked to last year's devastating explosion in Beirut.

This comes after Reuters news agency found that the company had not disclosed its beneficial owners.

The company, Savaro Ltd, is registered at a London address, and like all British companies is required to list who owns it with Britain's companies register, known as Companies House.

The woman listed as Savaro's owner and sole director, Marina Psyllou, said that she was acting as an agent on behalf of another beneficial owner, whose identity she could not disclose.

"The person who was and has always been the UBO [ultimate beneficial owner] of the company was always the same. As you should be aware, we cannot disclose his name," she said.

She did not say why she could not disclose his identity.

Global corporate governance rules define a UBO as someone who receives the benefits of an entity's transactions, typically owning a minimum of 25 per cent of its capital.

Margaret Hodge, a British MP and former Cabinet minister who headed parliament's public affairs committee from 2010-2015, called the apparent failure to list Savaro's ultimate beneficiary at Companies House "outrageous".

"The UK authorities should investigate this, given inaccurate information appears to have been filed. We need to challenge formation agents where it appears they may have acted improperly."

John Mann, a member of the House of Lords who has investigated the use of UK-registered companies in illicit activity, said the case showed the need for stronger enforcement of Britain's company disclosure rules.

"It is shocking and very damaging to the reputation of the United Kingdom that Companies House and our national system of company registration can be so easily exploited," he said.

Ms Psyllou, who provides corporate registrations for clients through her own Cyprus company, Interstatus, said on Thursday that her company "strictly complies with legislations and reports to relevant regulators".

She also denied that Savaro could have been linked to the Lebanon explosion, saying she believed it had never done any business.

"As far as we know, the company in question, ever since its registration it remained dormant without any trading or other activity or keeping any bank accounts as the project for which it was incorporated was never realised."

She gave no information about the company's intended purpose.

The Beirut explosion on 4 August last year killed more than 200 people.

The huge shipment of ammonium nitrate fertiliser that exploded had been held in Beirut while en route to Mozambique. The Mozambican buyer, FEM, identified the company it bought it from as Savaro.

A Lebanese source said a sales contract for the fertiliser identified Savaro, and listed it at the London address where the company was then registered with the UK authorities.

Tracing the shipment could ultimately depend on unravelling exactly who stands behind Savaro, said Ben Cowdock, who investigates international corruption for non-government organisation Transparency International in London.

Under legal changes in 2016 – introduced as part of an anti-corruption campaign by David Cameron, who was prime minister at the time – that should be a straightforward matter of looking the information up with Companies House, Mr Cowdock added.

Ms Psyllou's  company Interstatus has been listed since 2006 as the company secretary for Savaro, responsible for fulfilling its reporting requirements, and another Interstatus company was initially listed as Savaro's owner.

In July 2016, three months after a rule change requiring companies to list their beneficial owners, Savaro updated its records to name Ms Psyllou as the owner.

Ms Hodge and Mr Mann both called on Britain's business ministry to investigate what they said appeared to be a breach of the disclosure rules.

The business ministry declined to comment, saying it does not discuss individual companies.