Lebanese-Canadian businessman Chadi Charani says he is a respected entrepreneur with a “impeccable” reputation forged through ventures in Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Over the past year, three banks have canceled his accounts and refused to do business with him, amid published allegations that he was involved in an arms deal in which Serbian mortar shells fell into the hands of terrorists.
New details about his alleged role in the deal, buried in the Pandora Papers leak of millions of offshore tax haven documents, reveal that Charani was a Saudi military officer and director of a British Virgin Islands-based shell company with a US defense contractor .
That company, Larkmont Holdings Ltd., was instrumental in transporting about 30,000 high-explosive mortar shells from a Serbian arms manufacturer in 2018, shipping records show.
The final destination of those weapons remains the subject of fierce controversy that has spread to Bulgarian courts and Charani is facing international scrutiny.
Bulgarian online news reports from September 2019 alleged that mortar shells transported by Larkmont ended up in the hands of Islamic State group fighters in Yemen and not their legally declared end user, Saudi Arabia’s military.
In response to Star’s written questions, Charani said he could not comment on the allegations as they are before the courts in Bulgaria.
In a lawsuit he filed against the Bulgarian journalist who first published the ISIS allegations, Charani denies any involvement in the arms deal, stating that “between Serbia, the United States, Saudi Arabia They have never had any connection or connection with the supply of weapons to Afghanistan, and/or the ultimate destination of Islamic State in Yemen, or any other point in the world related to Islamic State.
The lawsuit states that the allegations of mangering weapons sent into the hands of Islamic State in Yemen “do not correspond to the truth”.
The defamation claim against journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva alleges that she published “false statements” that have harmed her personally and professionally.
Gayatzhiwa told the Star in an emailed statement that she had “incredible evidence that everything I wrote in my article is true … and I will present all the evidence in court … I (behind every word) I’m standing.”
Charani’s lawsuit states that the three banks had serious concerns about Charani’s business activities to remove him as a customer.
In the spring of 2020, two banks in the UAE – Noor Bank and ADIB Bank – closed their accounts.
Then, in January this year, TD Canada Trust did just that, their statement reads.
TD Canada Trust, in response to Star’s questions, said it could not comment on its customers.
Documents in the Pandora Papers, a set of secret offshore records that were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and shared with the Toronto Star, show Charney was appointed director of Larkmont Holdings in February 2018. Was giving a residential address in Riyadh, Saudi. Arab.
Charani’s co-directors include Mohamed Abdulkarim Mohamed Al-Hasan, a Saudi Defense Ministry official who was placed under investigation by Saudi royal decree last year for “suspicious financial transactions” and “financial corruption”.
“I haven’t done anything illegal, but please understand that my job sometimes requires me to deal with all kinds of people and clients, depending on the work involved,” Charani said in an email to the Star this week. Something more unconventional happens.”
Another person who appears on Larkmont registration in the British Virgin Islands is a US citizen named William Michael Sommerindyke Jr. A letter in the file signed by Charni said Somerindike “is fully authorized to represent us by all means with the Saudi Ministry of Defence. Arab.”
When asked for comment on his involvement with the company, Sommerindike did not respond.
Star obtained Charani’s suit, which is written in Bulgarian, and verified its translation with two Bulgarian journalists and a Bulgarian academic.
Charani’s claim states that he is a “respected businessman and entrepreneur” with “impeccable personal and corporate reputation”. It says it owns companies in areas ranging from manufacturing and consulting services to “security and defense” and the supply of medical equipment in North America and the Middle East.
He also had a company in Canada.
RML FZE Solutions Inc. was a federally incorporated Canadian company established in 2019. Chadi Charani was the sole listed director of the company until February 2020, when he was replaced by his Ottawa-based brother Chafi Charani. The company’s registration shows that the firm was dissolved in May.
The company had the same listed address as the house owned by his brother Chafik. In an interview, Chafik said he reluctantly agreed to name the company after him last year because of negative publicity swirling around his brother in Europe.
It’s a decision he says he now regrets.
“When he asked me I had no idea how much headache was involved,” he said. “I decided I had to shut down RML.”
In a written statement to the Star, Charney, an electrical engineer by training who says he hasn’t lived in Canada for nearly 25 years, confirmed that he had asked his brother to take over the Canadian firm’s directorship.
“In preparation for a relocation to Canada, I founded RML FZE and was not involved in any commercial activities. Since my resettlement plans did not execute as expected, I told my brother that I could not wait until I started my future plans. I should be replaced as a director till the time he decides… He took over the position of director on my request and closed the corporation.”
Chafik says he had no involvement in the operations and that the company had no activity or contract. It is not clear what the purpose of the company was. Chafik says his brother set it up to start the business in Canada, where he hopes to return one day.
“Chadi is an entrepreneur. He tries to get into any business that makes money legally,” he said.
Internal emails and shipping documents from a Serbian arms factory obtained by ICIJ partners link Charani to the Middle Eastern arms trade in early 2017.
On 8 and 9 May that year, he was listed as a visitor to a Serbian arms manufacturing company named Krusik, along with al-Hasan and four others. Documents show that a copy of his passport, along with other visitors, was provided to the factory owners for the purpose of this visit.
In his lawsuit, Charani says a 2017 document listing him as a visitor to a weapons manufacturing facility intended to defame him is “unsubstantiated and/or false.”
But it also says that the image of his passport, leaked by a former employee at the weapons facility, is authentic and “a clear violation of personal data protection rules”.
Chafik says his brother told him he was working for a company that deals in arms to the Saudi government and that he visited the Serbian arms maker. The travel required permits and passports which eventually leaked.
“He is not saying that he was not there but he was not there for that purpose. They were working with the Saudi government … a shipment like this … should have arrived and received by the defense minister So what happens after that, your knowledge is as good as mine or his. Did it fall into the wrong hands? Possibly. I don’t know. He won’t know… What happened internally, nobody knows.”
The whistleblower who leaked Serbian documents exposing Charani and his associates is a former employee of the ammunition plant, who he says started noticing irregularities in 2014 that eventually convinced him to go public.
“These wrongdoings were related to privileges granted to private arms trading companies,” said Alexander Obradovic in an interview with the Star. “The public disclosure of this document has triggered one of the biggest scandals in Serbia in recent years.”
Shortly after the document was published in 2019, Serbian Secret Service officers arrested Obradovi at work on suspicion of disclosing trade secrets.
Obradovic says he spent 18 days in prison and 73 days in house arrest, before public pressure led to his release awaiting trial. Twenty-four months later, the investigation is still ongoing and no charges have been filed.
Obradovi provided the ICIJ with records showing that Charni had visited the Krusik plant as a representative of a Serbian company that was procuring weapons.
“I don’t know whether the intention was to end the weapons at the hands of terrorists,” he says. “I am sure that the main reason for the participants of this whole arrangement (for) the Serbian side was huge earnings and real profits.”
Less than a year after the plant’s visit, Larkmont Holdings made three shipments of 82-millimeter, high-explosive mortars from the same plant to Saudi Arabia, according to shipment records published in Bulgarian media and later obtained by Star. . The 30,000 shells transported include 18,960 on February 19, 2018, another 3,840 six days later, and 7,200 on March 1, 2018.
STAR could not independently verify whether the mortar shells fell into the hands of Islamic State fighters in Yemen. The serial numbers on the mortar shells that appeared in ISIS propaganda videos posted online trace back to the Krusik factory.
Screenshots from these ISIS videos outlined Gayatzhiwa’s investigative reports, which were originally published on her website, armswatch.com, and picked up by other Eastern European-focused news websites.
In 2016, the United Nations Security Council issued a warning that “flexible accountability” in the Saudi-led coalition of countries fighting Houthi rebels could result in “arms being diverted into the hands of radical groups and black people…