What is the fate of funds of Rifaat al-Assad and Syrian regime supporters who are subject to sanctions?

Rifaat al-Assad (news agencies)

Rifaat al-Assad (news agencies)


Enab Baladi – Mais Shetian

Since 2011, the USA and the European Union have imposed a series of economic sanctions and prosecuted a large number of Syrian figures and entities on various charges, ranging from supporting the Syrian regime to embezzling public funds, money laundering, and tax evasion.

Among the most prominent people included in the prosecutions was Rifaat al-Assad, the uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He left Syria in 1984, after a failed coup attempt against his brother Hafez Al-Assad. He was called the “Butcher of Hama” for leading the Defense Companies, which participated in the “Hama Massacre” in 1982.

French investigations against him started in 2014, and the first charges were issued in 2016, with the investigating judge charging him with money laundering and embezzlement of public funds between 1984 and 2016.

The French authorities seized his properties, which amounted to 90 million Euros, in addition to his house, worth 20 million Euros, located in the United Kingdom.

In December 2019, Rifaat al-Assad, 82, faced a new trial in France, but he did not attend it for health reasons, as stated by his lawyers to AFP.

Rifaat then faced another investigation in Spain, after the country seized in 2017 his 500 properties, worth 691 million Euros, under a request from the French government.

The Syrian Legalists Committee issued on January 27 a special legal memorandum, and sent it to the governments of Spain, France, UK, and Switzerland, requesting that Rifaat al-Assad’s funds not to be handed over except for the legitimate transitional government after achieving the political transfer of power in Syria.

Regarding the legality of this memorandum, Muhannad Sharbati, a member of the Syrian Legal Development Program, said that from a legal point of view, this memorandum is not binding on the judiciary investigating the charges against Rifaat al-Assad, He added that the judiciary alone is the only authority that can determine the fate of these funds according to the laws of the country that carry out the trials before its courts.

What is the fate of seized and frozen funds?

+Muhannad Sharbati told Enab Baladi that the outcome of the money taken on charges of money laundering or tax evasion is decided by the judiciary, which investigates these charges.

The seized funds as a result of this type of crime usually remain captured until the issuance of a final judicial verdict determining their fate.

If these crimes are proven before the judiciary, these funds may be seized as they came from illegal activities, and the perpetrator can be imprisoned in addition to paying financial fines. In case the charges are not proven, these funds will be released.

Sharbati pointed out that the issue of Asset Freezing due to penalties is different from the issue of the judicial verdict to seize funds due to money laundering, tax evasion, and misappropriation of public funds.

In short, sanctions are restrictive measures that international organizations or countries impose against other states, non-governmental parties, or individuals whose behavior or policies violate international law and human rights or pose a threat to global or regional peace and security.

In the situation where the frozen funds belong to a country, and the freeze decision is not canceled, or an agreement on the fate of these funds is reached with the transitional government (if any), Some countries may confiscate the frozen funds, as the United States did in 2003 when it decided to seize some of the frozen Iraqi government properties to use them to help the Iraqi people and to help rebuild Iraq.

Can economic sanctions be circumvented?

Sharbati pointed out that there are several ways to circumvent economic sanctions “although in practice it may be difficult in many cases to prove this,” including the use of people as fronts to do businesses or setting up fake companies in other countries, where there are no transparency, no commitment to sanctions, and no strict anti-money laundering laws.

The relatives of those who were subject to sanctions are legally not prevented from investing in the countries that imposed the sanctions, provided that the source of their money is proven, meaning their funds must not come from persons included in the sanctions.

In case that certain funds in possession of a member of the family of the person included in the sanctions belong to the listed person, these funds can be frozen, as happened with the daughter of Bushra al-Assad in London, when the funds in her bank account was frozen, for suspicion that these funds come from a person included in the penalties list.

No UN sanctions yet against the Syrian regime

The Syrian regime is currently not subject to any UN-issued sanctions because of the opposition of Russia and China in the Security Council and the use of veto more than once against the imposition of any sanctions on the Syrian regime.

The Syrian regime is only subject to individual sanctions imposed by countries, such as US sanctions (Caesar Act), Canadian sanctions, as well as European sanctions (European Union).

The United Nations managed to impose sanctions on ISIS, Hay’ at Tahrir al-Sham, and the people and entities associated with them.

The first European sanctions were issued in 2011 against the head of the Aleppo Chamber of Industry, Fares Shehabi, businessman Tarif al-Akhras, and businessman Issam Anbouba.

These sanctions were followed by a series of other sanctions that affected dozens of business people and prominent persons associated with the Syrian regime.

On February 17, the European Union imposed new economic sanctions on Syrian business people and entities, including Waseem Qattan, Chairman of Damascus Chamber of Commerce, Amer Foz, brother of the penalized Syrian businessman, Samer Foz, by the EU and USA, and the Governor of Damascus, Adel al-Olabi, on charges of conspiracy with the regime, along with the confiscation of real estate properties of refugees living outside Syria.

The economic sanctions, in general, include the freezing of movable and immovable properties of the person against whom the sanctions were issued in the country that issued the sanctions, preventing travel to it, practicing any commercial and investment activity in it, and preventing any person in the country that imposed the sanctions from any business dealings with the person included in the sanctions list.

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