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AP Interview: Syrian businessman sanctioned by EU denies smuggling Islamic State group's oil

DAMASCUS, Syria – A Syrian businessman facing European Union sanctions denied on Tuesday allegations that he bought oil from the Islamic State group for President Bashar Assad’s government.

The EU put sanctions last week on George Haswani and six other prominent Syrian businessmen, freezing their assets and banning them from travelling to Europe. It also froze the assets of six companies also viewed as sponsors of the Syrian government.

Speaking to The Associated Press in his Damascus office, Haswani said the EU sanctions and accusations are politically motivated and said he is preparing to take unspecified legal action against the EU.

“There is no doubt that this unjust and political decision is not based on any evidence and I challenge them to put forward any proof or document that proves the reason behind the decision,” he said. “This decision will lead to legal repercussions and the company and its reputation will be harmed, as well as its business. This is targeted damage for political reasons.”

The EU said in its official journal that Haswani, co-owner of HESCO Engineering and Construction Co., a major engineering and construction company in Syria, has close ties to the government. It said he acts as “a middle man in deals for the purchase of oil from ISIL by the Syrian regime,” referring to the Islamic State group by an alternate acronym.

The militants, who hold a third of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, sell oil on the black market to help fund their conquests. Much of the oil is smuggled out of Islamic State-held territory in northern Syria to neighbouring Turkey. Syrian opposition and Western officials long have accused Assad’s government of secretly acquiring fuel from the group as well.

Haswani questioned why black market traders in Turkey don’t face EU sanctions.

“Where did the oil from Daesh area, that is about 100,000 barrels a day, go? Everyone knows where it goes and where it is being sold,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the group. “How do they move and market oil through Turkey? Where are these traders and why aren’t they being punished?”