The Yemeni Oil Business Unites 'Houthi' and Hadi's Government Supporter

Mohammed Komani & Saja Mortada

As the Yemeni government-owned oil company was filing a complaint at the Public Prosecutor’s office against the oil trader Tawfiq Abdel-Rahim on charges of storing gasoline and causing a crisis in the domestic market, two other traders were completing the paperwork to establish the offshore company Red Sea Refinery Limited. Ahmad Saleh Al-Issi and Hussein Al-Huthaili partnered with Zafar Ikram Sheikh, a Pakistani-born American businessman who resides in Dubai.

In early 2020, Al-Issi was appointed deputy director of the President’s Office for Economic Affairs. He believes he is qualified to be the next president of Yemen. His competitors, on the other hand, describe him as a “crocodile,” and media reports quoted the current Yemeni Prime Minister in his description of Al-Issi as “corrupt.”

In his early days, Al-Issi supervised a gas station owned by his father in the Al Hudaydah Governorate. According to Le Monde, this was the first step that launched his monopoly of the fuel that reaches the port of Aden. This would not have been possible if it had not been for his relationship with the President of the Republic, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi when Hadi was the Minister of Defense in the 1990s.

Both Al-Issi and Hadi come from the Abyan Governorate in southern Yemen, and they have a strong relationship that helped them establish a fleet to transport fuel.

This investigation is based on leaked documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists ( ICIJ logo ) and 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-Issi established an offshore company with Al-Huthaili and Sheikh in the British Virgin Islands on May 7, 2014. Its main purpose was to invest and contribute to other companies, and open a bank account.

Al-Issi made statements in March 2021 on his activities in northern Yemen, which is controlled by the Houthis. He stated, “I challenge anyone to try and prove it. Since the first day of Operation Decisive Storm in March 2015, I have not had any business activities in the Houthi-controlled governorates. My business has stopped as the Houthis have seized some properties such as houses and lands in Sana’a in addition to a hospital. They also shut down the corporate headquarters, my factories and Al-Shifa’s Medical College in the city of Hudaidah. What I am doing now is charity work and paying employees who have been staying at home since 2015.”

These statements do not align with his partnership with Al-Huthaili whose activities have not stopped in the regions controlled by the Houthis, and the transfer of oil there is ongoing.

On October 28, 2015, that is, after Al-Houthi “Ansar Allah” movement took control of most of the northern governorates, the director of the Yemeni Oil Company sent a letter to the acting Minister of Oil to complain about Al-Huthaili’s Company which was selling oil on the black market. The company only seized the oil trucks in the Al-Sabahiyah region, as it does not have any authority in the Ras Issa area of ​​Hudaidah, which is run by Al-Issi. At this point, the Houthis were not in control of Ras Issa or the Hudaidah Governorate.

The same memo accused Al-Huthaili’s company of contributing to the hike in the dollar exchange rate from 215 to 280 Yemeni Riyals at that time. The company emptied the oil in Ras Issa and sold it on the black market. In just one week on the black market, it sold oil for the value of 48 million dollars.

What is the Story of Ras Issa and Al-Issi?

On July 16, 2013, the Yemen Petroleum Company signed an agreement with Al-Issi to establish a company called Ras Issa Oil, which would store and trade oil derivatives in the port of Ras Issa in Hudaidah for a period of twenty-five years.

By this agreement, Al-Issi monopolizes the distribution and transportation of oil derivatives by sea through his tankers.

Under the agreement, the Yemeni government pays US $13 in rent for each ton of oil derivatives operated or stored by the company.

Abdullah Al-Daya’a is the Secretary-General of the Trade Union Coordination Council: At the time, his comments to the workers and employees of the oil company were as follows, “The agreement gives away the rights of the state and commits many legal violations.” According to older statements posted on Mohammad Al-Absi’s blog, Al-Daya’a emphasized the union’s intent to escalate the situation and go on strike in the event the agreement is endorsed by the ministry.”

The agreement includes items such as allowing Al-Issi’s heirs to inherit the right to continue the partnership upon Al-Issi’s death, and the contract would not be rescinded even if he declares bankruptcy.

The expert in Yemeni oil affairs Abdel-Wahid Al-Awbali tells ARIJ, “Oil in Yemen has always been controlled by influential people.” He adds, “For the past 30 years, Al-Issi has monopolized the transport of oil by sea: Ras Issa receives oil from Ma’rib, and then it is transported to the Aden refineries.”

The Corruption Race Between the Government and Al-Issi

In an interview on March 16, 2021, Al-Issi declared war on the Yemeni Prime Minister Mue’en Abdel-Malik who had accused him of corruption, “He has to prove what he claims. He is the Prime Minister: He says I am corrupt and that everything is under my control and that I control the oil. He has to prove that. Our disagreement with Mue’en is not because he is the head of the government nor because he is falling short of his duties but because he is a trader; so, we hold him responsible for part of the corruption.” Al-Issi mentioned that the Prime Minister is linked to large companies and commercial groups that facilitate their work and harness the state’s support. These companies pay their taxes to the Houthis.

Meanwhile, the Yemeni Prime Minister reacted by paying Al-Issi’s dues in April of that year because Al-Issi had stated that the Yemeni government owed him money and that it had not paid its debts.

This conflict over the import and distribution of oil between Al-Issi and the government is due to the Prime Minister’s decision to develop future plans to allow traders to import oil to stop the monopoly.

Oil Corruption with the Support of the Yemeni Presidency

The oil trade in Yemen is linked to figures that have not changed for twenty-five years because they are connected to positions of power within the state.

It is circulated among Yemenis that Hussein Al-Huthaili, who owns an oil transporting fleet, is the front of Vice President Ali Muhsin Al-Ahmar, and Yemeni media outlets have published government directives to facilitate and protect the activities of Al-Ahmar’s institution.

Since the beginning of the nineties, Ahmad Al-Issi has had a strong relationship with the President of the Republic, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and his children.

The report of the relevant UN panel of experts reveals that the committee has an invoice with due amounts in excess of $3 million issued by the Aden Refineries Company to the ASA Shipping Company FZCo, a subsidiary of the Overseas Shipping and Stevedoring Company. This company is affiliated with the Al-Issi’s group for chartering the crude oil tanker M. Spirit. The Committee is examining the reasons for the delay, which led to the imposition of a fine.

The report stated that the committee met with Al-Issi and that he categorically denied all charges and involvement in corrupt operations in running the port of Aden. Al-Issi who is the deputy of the President’s Office for Economic Affairs says that he never benefits from his position and that the Yemeni government owes him money and cannot pay its debts.

In October of 2019, citizens of the oil province of Ma’rib protested when Al-Huthaili Corporation was given the exclusive rights to transport oil from Ma’rib to Shabwa. Al-Huthaili’s oil tankers were attacked, and people demanded that the process of transporting oil be handed over to the residents of the region. The same scenario happened in 2021 in the Hadhramaut Governorate when a group of people from the area objected to the transfer of oil from their lands by Al-Huthaili’s Company.

In 2021, the Yemeni Minister of Oil sent a message to the governor of Hadhramaut, the commander of the second military region and requested that the oil tankers owned by Al-Huthaili’s Company be protected.


Al-Issi announced that the United Arab Emirates is fighting him and seeking to kill him while his business is launched from Jebel Ali with his partner in the offshore company Zafar Sheikh. Al-Issi says, “I have no money in Dubai. I only buy oil from Dubai in the name of my company, and not in my name. I would not step into the Emirates; if I would, you would never see me again.” Al-Issi adds that he only buys oil from the United Arab Emirates because it is the best and closest market, but the UAE is harassing him and accusing him of buying oil from Iran.

An invoice submitted by Al-Issi to the Yemeni government in the amount of $3 million was published in the report of the relevant UN committee of experts, and it listed the account number of Al-Issi Group in the Islamic Bank in Dubai.

At the time this investigation was published, Ahmad Saleh Al-Issi, Hussein Al-Huthaili and Dhofar Ikram Sheikh had not responded to our inquiries.