Economic profiteering is fueling the war in Yemen: UN panel

New York: Economic profiteering and money-laundering is fuelling the catastrophe in Yemen, where a six-year war has involved attacks on civilians, forced disappearances and other violations of human rights and international law, United Nations experts said in a new report.

The experts estimate Houthi rebels diverted at least $US1.8 billion ($2.3 billion) in 2019 that was supposed to go to the government to pay salaries and provide basic services to citizens.

The monitors said Saudi Arabia deposited $US2 billion with the Central Bank of Yemen in January 2018 under a development and reconstruction program. The money was intended to fund credit to buy commodities – such as rice, sugar, milk and flour – to strengthen food security and stabilise domestic prices.

A Houthi supporter holds his weapon during a demonstration against the United States over its decision to designate the Houthis a foreign terrorist organisation in Sanaa, Yemen, on Monday.Credit:AP

Their investigation found the Central Bank broke its foreign exchange rules, manipulated the foreign exchange market and “laundered a substantial part of the Saudi deposit in a sophisticated money-laundering scheme” that saw traders receive a $US423-million windfall.

“The $US423 million is public money, which has been illegally transferred to private corporations. Documents provided by the Central Bank of Yemen fail to explain why they adopted such a destructive strategy,” according to the UN report.

The monitors said they viewed it as “an act of money-laundering and corruption perpetrated by government institutions, in this case the Central Bank of Yemen and the Government of Yemen, in collusion with well-placed businesses and political personalities, to the benefit of a select group of privileged traders and businessmen.”

Yemen’s government, the Central Bank and the Houthis did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the accusations.

A malnourished boy is placed on a scale in a hospital in Sanaa. Two-thirds of Yemen’s population of about 28 million people are hungry, and nearly 1.5 million families currently rely entirely on food aid to survive.Credit:AP

The report describes a deteriorating situation, saying the Houthis and the government “appear to be indifferent” to the devastating impact of the economy’s downfall on its people while continuing to divert the country’s economic and financial resources.

Six years of war between a US-backed Arab coalition supporting the internationally recognised government and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have been catastrophic for the country, killing more than 112,000 people, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, bringing the country to the brink of famine and wrecking infrastructure. It began with the 2014 Houthi takeover of the north, where the majority of Yemenis live, which prompted a destructive air campaign by the Saudi-led coalition, aimed at restoring the government.

The panel said there was “an increasing body of evidence suggesting that individuals and entities” in Iran supply “significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis”.

The panel said the government lost strategic territory to both the Houthis and the Southern Transitional Council, a separatist group backed by the United Arab Emirates. In December, the coalition announced a power-sharing cabinet including southern separatists, part of a deal to end a power struggle between the former allies.

People run following an explosion at the airport in Aden, Yemen, shortly after a plane carrying the newly formed cabinet landed last month.Credit:AP

“The lack of a coherent strategy among anti-Houthi forces, demonstrated by infighting within them, and disagreements between their regional backers, has served to strengthen the Houthis,” the experts said.

The report said the Houthis performed government functions including collecting taxes and other state revenue, “a large portion of which is used to fund their war effort” — not to help the Yemeni people.

“The government of Yemen is, in some cases, engaging in money-laundering and corruption practices that adversely affect access to adequate food supplies for Yemenis, in violation of the right to food,” the panel said.

In the $US423-million scheme that illegally transferred public money to traders, 48 per cent was received by a single holding corporation, the Hayel Saeed Anam Group, the experts said.

AP, Reuters

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