BEIRUT: Cyprus not asked to arrest Russian ship owner

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Cyprus police have not received an international arrest warrant for the Russian owner of a vessel that contained a shipment of fertilizer behind Beirut’s massive port blast in August.

Police spokesman, Christos Andreou told the Financial Mirror on Tuesday that Cyprus has yet to receive any request from Interpol or the Lebanese authorities to arrest a Russian living in Limassol in connection to the deadly Beirut explosion.

He said the only involvement the police has had so far with the case was questioning a Russian suspect over alleged links to a ship and its cargo of ammonium nitrate said to have caused the devastation in Beirut.

“Lebanese authorities asked us to locate the individual and ask him some questions, which we did,” said Andreou.

“His response has been sent back to Lebanon. We have not received a call for further action regarding the suspect,” he added.

According to international media, Lebanon has asked Interpol to assist in the arrest of the owner and the captain of the ship.

Although the Lebanese court issuing the warrants did not give out the names of the two men in question, the owner has been previously described as a Russian citizen living in Cyprus.

The ship’s captain was widely named as Boris Prokoshev, a Russian national, while the owner was identified as Igor Grechushkin, another Russian national living in Limassol – one of the world’s largest ship management hubs.

Initially, attention turned to a Cypriot shipowner named as the ultimate owner, a claim that was rejected by Charalambos Manoli.

Following the explosion of hundreds of tonnes of ammonium, Lebanese authorities had requested Cypriot police to interrogate Grechushkin in connection to the explosion.

It was not immediately clear why Lebanon sees the two individuals as liable for events that occurred years after they last had contact with the ship and its cargo.

In 2013, around 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate came into Lebanon on board the Moldovan-flagged Rhosus ship, sailing from Georgia and bound for Mozambique.

Grechushkin had leased the ship, which docked at Beirut port with a small hole in its hull, The New York Times reported.

Marine Traffic, a ship tracking platform, said the Moldova-flagged vessel first arrived in Beirut’s port, the country’s busiest, on November 20, 2013, and never left.

Reportedly, the ship was abandoned by its owner, leaving the crew unpaid.

Lebanese authorities had detained the ship, confiscating the ammonium nitrate, storing it in a facility at the port.

The explosion in Beirut on August 4 killed more than 190 people, wounded thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital and caused billions of dollars in damage.

The blast was felt as far as Cyprus, some 240 kilometres away.

Lebanon has rejected an international investigation into its worst peace-time disaster, but a probe is being aided by foreign experts, including from the FBI and France.

So far, 25 people have been arrested as part of the ongoing investigation, including senior port and customs officials.