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RPT-UPDATE 2-Flour docked in Lebanon not stolen from Ukraine, source at importing firm says

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By Timour Azhari and Maya Gebeily

BEIRUT, July 29 (Reuters) - An official at a Turkey-based grains trading company denied on Friday that barley and flour aboard a ship docked in a Lebanese port had been stolen from Ukraine, saying the source of the flour was Russia.

The official at Loyal Agro Co LTD, who declined to be identified, told Reuters that the company had sought to import 5,000 tonnes of the flour on the ship to Lebanon to sell to private buyers, not to the Lebanese government.

Reuters could not immediately reach Lebanese government officials for comment.

The Ukrainian embassy in Lebanon told Reuters that a U.S.-sanctioned Syrian ship had docked in the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli "carrying 5,000 tonnes of barley and 5,000 tonnes of flour that we suspect was taken from Ukrainian stores."

The Russian embassy said it had "no information regarding the Syrian vessel or a cargo brought to Lebanon by a private company."

Russia has previously denied Ukrainian allegations that it has stolen Ukrainian grain.

Lebanese foreign minister Abdallah Bou Habib said that he had received "a number of protests and warnings" from Western nations following the arrival of the ship at the port of Tripoli, a tweet from the ministry's account said.

The company official said the cargo had not been offloaded and Lebanese customs had not yet granted an import licence as customs was in the process of investigating Ukrainian assertions that the flour had been stolen by Russia from Ukraine following Moscow's invasion of the country.

The official said the company had provided Lebanese customs with documentation showing the source of the cargo was legitimate.

They declined to provide the documents to Reuters.

A customs official and shipping source told Reuters on Thursday that the Tripoli port had not offloaded the ship due to suspicions it was carrying stolen goods.

Lebanese customs could not be reached for comment Friday.

The company official said that the cargo, some 8,000 tonnes of flour and 1,700 tonnes of barley in total, had initially been destined for Syria but the company decided to offload 5,000 tonnes of flour in Lebanon amid bread shortages tied to a three-year economic crisis.

The remaining cargo was set to be offloaded at a Syrian port, they said.

The official said that the flour could be sold for between $620 to $650 per tonne in Lebanon, whereas a tonne would fetch $600 in Syria.

Bakeries in Lebanon were inundated this week by frustrated crowds in a country where about half the population is food insecure, according to the World Food Programme.

Lebanon used to import most of its wheat from Ukraine, but those shipments have been disrupted by Russia's invasion and blockade of the main Black Sea ports through which Ukraine once exported.

Ukraine had resumed legal exports of wheat to Lebanon in mid-July, according to the Ukrainian embassy and the head of Lebanon's mills association. (Reporting by Timour Azhari and Maya Gebeily; Editing by William Maclean and Louise Heavens)

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