LONDON-The UN has paid tens of millions of dollars for contracts run by people and groups closely linked to Syrian regime, The Guardian newspaper said Tuesday.
The newspaper said some of the contracts awarded as part of the UN aid program to Syria went to companies under EU and U.S. sanctions, as well as government departments and charities run by people closely associated with regime leader Bashar al-Assad.
Critics of the UN mission told the daily that aid was being focused in government-held areas of the country and was, in effect, propping up the regime.
A UN spokesman told the newspaper that its priority was to reach as many vulnerable civilians as possible but that it had to work with organizations approved by the regime. “Our choices in Syria are limited by a highly insecure context where finding companies and partners who operate in besieged and hard-to-reach areas is extremely challenging,” he said.
The UN also told the newspaper it was only obliged to observe UN sanctions, not those of the EU or U.S.
According to the newspaper’s investigation, the UN has spent $8.5 million with the Syria Trust, which was founded and is chaired by Assad’s wife Asma, who is subject to U.S. and EU sanctions.
Also highlighted were millions paid to the government to boost agriculture as well as to the state-owned fuel supplier and the national blood bank, amid fears the blood would be used for military casualties before civilians.
The civil war, which erupted in March 2011, has seen more than 470,000 people killed, according to the Syrian Center for Policy Research. In April, the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, put the count at 400,000.