UN experts backpedal on Yemen corruption claims

Riyadh (AFP) –


A UN panel of experts has backtracked on corruption and money-laundering claims against Yemen's Saudi-backed government, saying no evidence was found in a preliminary review, according to letters seen by AFP Thursday.

The experts assessing UN sanctions on Yemen claimed in a January report that the war-ridden country's central bank "illegally" diverted to traders $423 million from a $2 billion Saudi deposit, that was meant to stabilise the Yemeni currency and enable basic food imports.

But in an update to the UN Security Council's sanctions committee, the experts said its "preliminary review has not demonstrated evidence of corruption, money laundering or elite capture".

In their letter dated last Friday, the panel said it aims to conduct a "complete review" of the initial report and will present its findings in "due course".

It added that the Saudi deposit, made in 2018 under a development and reconstruction program, appeared to have its desired effect as "food prices were stabilised" the following year in Yemen, which has seen famine-like conditions.

The January report also alleged that Hayel Saeed Anam (HSA), a UAE-headquartered business conglomerate with a large market presence in Yemen, pocketed a substantial part of the diverted funds.

In a separate letter to HSA chairman Abdul Gabbar Hayel Saeed, the panel said its findings "should be disregarded, pending a final assessment".

- Economic woes -

The backpedalling marks a blow to the credibility of the panel, whose report sparked fury within the ranks of Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed's government, two Gulf-based Western officials privy to internal discussions told AFP.

The Sanaa Center, a prominent think-tank focused on Yemen, noted what it called "serious errors" in the panel's findings.

"The panel erred in the basic data and calculations," the Center said in a report last week.

"Given the false premises upon which the panel of experts built its argument, its specific conclusions are unsound," it added.

Still, it said the report had cast a spotlight on the "dysfunctional and deeply problematic state of affairs" at Yemen's central bank.

With its foreign currency reserves running dry, the Aden-based bank is struggling to support the Yemeni currency, which plumbed new lows in recent months -- further diminishing the purchasing power of poor Yemenis.

Yemen's six-year war has left tens of thousands dead and displaced millions, with more than 80 percent of the 29 million people depending on aid to survive.

"The UN panel's release of what amounts to a retraction is highly unusual," Elana DeLozier, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told AFP.

"It has brought relief to those accused, including the Yemeni government, for now but the panel leaves open the possibility that their conclusions are not entirely wrong," DeLozier added.