Serbia Sells White Phosphorus to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Officers Involved in Arms Deals and Weapons That Reached the Hands of ISIS in Yemen

Mohammed Komani & Saja Mortada

On March 25, 2015, the Ansar Allah Houthi group gained control of Al-Anad air base and marched towards Aden. This prompted the Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to leave Aden for Riyadh. Soon after, the Saudi-led Arab coalition announced Operation Decisive Storm to support “a legitimate government” in Yemen.

The situation did not change much during six years of war; the president is still in Riyadh, and the Yemeni government does not even control the liberated cities in the south. The influence of militias in those cities expanded due to the unbridled proliferation of weapons in the north and south.

On September 1, 2020, King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz issued a royal decree to relieve Prince Fahed Bin Turki Bin Abdul-Aziz of his position as the commander of the coalition forces in Yemen. He also relieved his son, Abdul-Aziz who was the deputy prince of Al-Jawf region. Both were to be investigated for charges of suspicious financial transactions in the aftermath of a report filed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz.

The royal decree included the names of four officers in the Saudi Ministry of Defense, including Mohammad Bin Abdul-Karim Al-Hassan and Yousif Bin Rakan Bin Hindi Al-Otaibi.

The names of Al-Hassan and Al-Otaibi appeared alongside the name of an American contractor called William Michael Somrendki and a Canadian Lebanese person, born in Tripoli called Shadi Shaarani. The leaked documents were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists ( ICIJ logo ) and were shared with ARIJ and a large number of publishers around the world within a project labeled as the Pandora Papers. The leaks mark the biggest cross-border journalistic collaboration project in history and include millions of documents from lawyers’ offices about tax havens. They also uncover assets, secret transactions and the hidden fortunes of the rich, including more than 130 billionaires, more than 30 world leaders, a number of fugitives or convicted people alongside sports stars, judges, tax officials, and counterintelligence agencies.

The documents reveal that Al-Hassan was registered as the director of the Larkmont Holdings Limited company in the British Virgin Islands on December 13, 2016, that is less than one year after the launch of Operation Decisive Storm by the Arab coalition against the Ansar Allah group in Yemen.

One of the company’s activities included the purchase of weapons from the Serbian GIM company, owned by the father of the Serbian Minister of Defense, Nebojša Stefanović, but a group of these weapons reached the hands of the terrorist organization of ISIS in Yemen.

The documents show that when Al-Hassan was registered as the director of Larkmont Holdings Limited, he listed an address that was later verified to be the address of a Saudi military company called "Rinad Al Jazeera LLC " based in Riyadh. The company’s website was suspended during the investigation period.

Larkmont and the Visit to Serbia

A document issued by Larkmont Holdings Limited on March 1, 2017 shows that Al-Hassan “is authorized to represent the company with the Ministry of Defense in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in all possible ways.”

Michael gave the authority to Al-Hassan to represent the company before the Saudi Ministry of Defense while Shaarani granted the authority to Michael. As this game of granting authorizations was underway, delegations of Saudi officers, American, Romanian and Bulgarian contractors were getting ready to visit Serbia to inspect weapons at the Krusik company.

We discovered that Al-Hassan established offshore companies linked to arms contracts in the Yemen war. However, Al-Hassan was not the only Saudi person who was included in the Saudi king’s decision to be investigated under suspicions of corruption.

The second person, Yousif Bin Rakan Bin Hindi Al-Otaibi, runs Milvards, which is co-managed by Larkmont Holdings Limited. Milvards was established on June 23, 2017, that is six months after Larkmont was founded. The company’s registration data does not show who owns the company.

The purchase of the weapons was carried out through intermediating companies and American contractors. The Saudi side was represented by Larkemont and Rinad Al Jazeera, and the Serbian side was represented by the GIM company.

On May 8, 2017, Al-Hassan and Shaarani visited the Serbian factory Krusik to inspect the weapons. On December 10, 2018, a group of American contractors visited the Krusik factory along with four Saudi officers.

According to the documents, the Saudi officer Mohammad Al-Hassan represented the Rinad Al Jazeera Company and was authorized to deal with the Saudi Ministry of Defense in all Larkmont’s financial and administrative transactions. Later, Al-Hassan used these powers granted to him by the company to mediate arms deals for weapons heading from Serbia to Saudi Arabia.

Serbia, Saudi Arabiam and the Islamic State in Yemen

The person who goes by the nickname of Emir of Al-Bayda’ region, that is ISIS in the state of Yemen says, “The legal system [meaning the regime of President Hadi] used the cover of Al-Qaeda and allowed some of its supporters to take charge. It would provide them with ammunition and weapons and would take care of them in preparation to turn some people into battalion leaders. Some of those people would show their military ranking while others would not. Thank God this project was uncovered and foiled.”

Images taken from video files published by ISIS in Al-Bayda’ Governorate show Serbian weapons that were among those bought by the Saudi Ministry of Defense from the Serbian Krusik company. It is unknown how these weapons reached ISIS.

The photos show mortar shells with clear identification marks. The part number can be cross-checked with the purchase contracts signed by Saudi Arabia through GIM which intermediated with the Serbian Krusik factory.

White Phosphorus

The documents show that the Saudi Ministry of Defense commissioned American contractors with addresses listed in the United Arab Emirates to purchase and transfer the Serbian weapons that it had purchased. The contractors hold Romanian, American, Saudi, and Bulgarian nationalities.

The deal included the delivery of more than seven thousand pieces of 82 mm of M74 white phosphorus mortar shells from the Serbian Krusik factory heading to Saudi Arabia for a value exceeding $217 million.

A report published by the Washington Post and other media outlets reveals that Saudi Arabia used white phosphorus in its operations in Yemen both on targets on the border near the city of Jizan and in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. Those reports indicate that the United States supplied Saudi Arabia with white phosphorus. Saudi Arabia might have resorted to Serbia to obtain white phosphorus to avoid media criticism targeting the United States for supplying Saudi Arabia with internationally prohibited weapons.

White phosphorus is an incendiary weapon , and the Third Protocol adopted on October 10, 1980 on prohibitions or restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons prohibits attacking civilians with incendiary weapons.

A Cross-Border Coordination to Deliver the Weapons

Serbia, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and Turkey facilitated the process of transporting the arms from Serbia by air to Saudi Arabia.

Azerbaijani Silk Way Airlines played the biggest role in these operations as it transported the Serbian weapons bought by the Saudi Ministry of Defense on flights where customs clearance is carried out in accordance with diplomatic protocols.

The weapons that were bought through Al-Hassan’s companies and through other Saudi officials are still being used by ISIS in Yemen. We communicated with the Saudi Ministry of Defense, but no answer was provided to the following question: Is the investigation into the corruption charges against Prince Fahed Bin Turki, his son, and the four Saudi officials that include Al-Hassan, spurred by the offshore companies that were involved in buying weapons during the Yemen war?