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Lebanon clears ship accused of carrying stolen Ukranian grain — official

By AFP - Aug 03,2022 - Last updated at Aug 03,2022

This photograph taken on Tuesday shows the Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni carrying 26,000 tonnes of corn, off shore of north-west Istanbul (AFP photo)

BEIRUT — Lebanon's top prosecutor on Tuesday cleared a Syrian-flagged ship for release after it was seized over allegations by Kyiv's embassy in Beirut that it carried flour and barley stolen from Ukraine, an official said.

Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat allowed the Laodicea, which docked in the northern port city of Tripoli last week, to set sail after investigations failed to prove it carried stolen goods, a judicial official told AFP.

“Preliminary investigations... did not reveal the existence of a criminal offence, or that the goods were stolen,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Ukraine’s embassy in Lebanon had claimed that the grain aboard the ship was loaded from a region occupied by Russian forces and said it presented Lebanese authorities with proof that the merchandise was stolen.

Ukraine has repeatedly accused Moscow’s forces of ransacking its grain warehouses since Russia invaded the country in late February.

On Saturday, Oueidat ordered the vessel’s seizure and instructed police to investigate.

The prosecutor found that the grain aboard the vessel belonged to a Syrian merchant, the judicial official said.

“The Syrian national whose name is on the shipment from Ukraine came in for investigation and presented the papers and documents that prove his ownership,” the official said on Tuesday.

Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, has this week tentatively resumed grain exports following a UN-backed deal.

A Sierra Leone-registered ship, Razoni, set sail from Odessa port for Lebanon on Monday under an accord brokered by Turkey and the United Nations that seeks to release millions of tonnes of trapped Ukrainian produce to world markets and curb a global food crisis.

The Marine Traffic website showed the vessel — which is carrying 26,000 tonnes of maize — off the coast of Bulgaria by 09:00 GMT on Tuesday.

Lebanon, which is struggling with one of the world’s worst financial crises, is facing a particularly acute bread shortage.

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