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The Yemen-Somalia arms trade

First, a belated career update: in December 2019, I finished my fifth and final year for the UN Security Council, which I served in the position of Coordinator of the (then) newly formed Panel of Experts on Somalia. Since March 2021, I've been working as a researcher and editor for the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

In September, my first research report for the Global Initiative was published, titled 'Following the money: The use of the hawala remittance system in the Yemen–Somalia arms trade'. As the title suggests, that paper maps out the financial flows underpinning the Yemen-Somalia arms trade. Some highlights:

  • Puntland is the primary entry point for illicit small arms and ammunition into Somalia. Shipments are typically transported in speedboats from Yemen, or, less frequently, transhipped from dhows originating from Iran's Makran coast.

  • The report analyzes a total of 176 'hawala' remittance records across four companies, detailing the transfer of $3.7 million from known arms importers in Somalia to their suppliers in Yemen.

  • The largest single remittance transaction amounted to $71,000. Two-thirds of the 176 transactions were in excess of the $10,000 threshold that typically triggers AML/CFT oversight.

  • The report highlights issues with KYC compliance in Somalia, which lacks a credible and widespread form of national identification or effective financial regulators. One Puntland-based arms dealer used 24 different names or name variations when transferring funds to Yemen.

  • In at least two instances, 'hawala' remittance companies permitted the transfer of almost $20,000 to a Yemeni national under OFAC sanction for allegedly supplying arms and financial support to AQAP and IS in Yemen.

  • While researching the paper, we initiated contact with a Yemeni arms supplier. Photos of weapons in his storehouse in Sana'a revealed preliminary evidence that arms (specifically, Type 56-1 rifles) reportedly provided by Iran to the Houthis may end up in Somalia.

  • The paper concludes with recommendations aimed at strengthening the 'hawala' remittance system and preventing further abuses by criminal elements, while remaining cognizant of the critical humanitarian and economic role of remittances in Somalia.

I would like to acknowledge the critical and generous contributions from the non-profit research organization C4ADS, as well as researcher Peter Kirechu, without which this study would not have been possible.

The report can be accessed by clicking on the image below:


Jay Bahadur
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