How did newly manufactured cars enter Syria?

Modern cars at an auction in Damascus (General Foreign Trade Organization)

Modern cars at an auction in Damascus (General Foreign Trade Organization)

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Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

The list of cars that the General Foreign Trade Organization (GFTO) announced would be for sale at a public auction has raised questions about why modern vehicles, including ones made this year, were presented.

On 26 April, the GFTO announced an auction for the sale of 64 used vehicles at its branch in the capital Damascus on 17 and 18 May, indicating that the auction will include tourist and field cars and various other cars that are now in spare parts warehouses in the Sahnaya area in the Damascus countryside.

Questions arose following the Syrian Ministry of Economy’s ban on importing “tourist” cars from abroad and the GFTO blacking out details of the identity of the entity or person who owns the cars presented at the auction and not mentioning the reason for which a 2022 Volkswagen, presented at global markets in March 2021 at a starting price of 29,000 US dollars, had entered Syrian territory.

In this report, Enab Baladi attempts to mention possible scenarios for the entry of these cars into Syria and then to a public auction and to identify the parties benefiting from the said auction.

Auction to supplement the treasury

The vagueness of the details provided by the GFTO affiliated with the Ministry of Economy in the regime’s government created the need to explain the events related to the arrival of luxury cars barred from entering Syria at a public auction.

The GFTO’s functions are to import all kinds of goods and materials that are restricted to import, as well as to secure the needs of health authorities and veterinary vaccines, heavy machinery and tourist cars, and agricultural pesticides and fertilizers.

A well-informed lawyer in Damascus, whose name Enab Baladi did not reveal, said that the main reason for holding this auction is the government’s need for funds, explaining that a decree raising car fees issued days earlier increases the funds collected by the state treasury as well.

On 26 April, Syrian regime president Bashar al-Assad issued a decree raising vehicle registration fees and vehicle-related transaction procedures.

According to the decree, the cost of registering tourist cars ranged from 10,000 to 500,000 Syrian pounds, depending on their engine capacity and type (small, medium, large, private or public vehicles, and work vehicles).

How did they enter?

The Damascus-based lawyer considered that the entry of cars made in 2022 is not yet fully understood or clear.

He added that the source of modern cars might generally be customs confiscations or Free Market confiscations whose owners did not reclaim them within the legal period allotted. He pointed out that this source may not be effective if the car was made in 2022 since the issue of putting it up for auction requires a long time.

The lawyer suggested that the government had imported such vehicles through its ministries or directorates, which are allowed to import cars while being exempted from customs duties, to trade in them and sell them at auctions at “high” prices that suit their modernity.

“Not all are subjects to the rule of law”

In September 2011, the Syrian regime government decided to halt the import of certain items whose customs duties exceed 5 percent, most of which include “luxuries” like tourist cars.

The then Minister of Economy, Mohammad Nidal al-Shaar, justified the decision by saying that it was an attempt at preserving the country’s foreign exchange stock and redistributing it to low-income classes, thereby drawing greater benefit from the economic process in Syria.

Despite the decision being effective to date, modern luxury cars are frequently appearing on the streets of regime-held governorates.

Explaining the reason for this while speaking to Enab Baladi, the professor of banking and financial sciences, Firas Shaabo, said that what was happening was that the law in Syria is solely for the people, explaining that officials and certain influential people were not subject to the rule of these laws in any way, even before the revolution in 2011.

Shaabo considered that the introduction of modern cars or other items prohibited from being imported into Syria, despite official decisions, confirms the coordination between some officials and influential people on the one hand and customs and certain security agencies on the other.

According to Shaabo, this coordination aims to legally bring cars into the country after they are confiscated and put them up for auction to be later sold at “inconceivable” prices.

“According to Customs Law No. 38 of 2006, the Customs Administration has the right to sell confiscated goods and means of transport under the authorization of the Director-General, or his authorized representative, after nine months from the date of their seizure. They may also be sold prior to this date if their value decreases.”

The Customs Administration may also sell goods, objects, and means of transport that have been transferred to it as a result of a written verdict, settlement, waiver, or confiscation, or in the event that the owners of the goods do not reclaim their goods from real, legal (pseudo), private, and industrial warehouses within the statutory deadlines specified in the law.

The “No-State” policy rules Syria

Regarding the parties benefiting from the auction of modern cars, Professor Shaabo explained that the first beneficiary is not the state, explaining that a distinction must be made between the state and the regime.

Shaabo sees the regime today as “mafias” and “war lords,” who are several influential people who control the country’s resources and sectors.

In total coordination between these “mafias” and the security services, these persons control economic sectors and are responsible for marketing this sector and bringing its equipment, according to Shaabo; he notes that Syria’s borders with Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and the opposition-controlled areas in northern Syria are “fully open” to support smuggling.

Shaabo believes that “statehood” does not apply to what is currently happening in Syria, explaining that what is happening is definitely a “No-State” policy.

The GFTO has previously held several public auctions for the sale of tourist cars and heavy machinery, the proceeds of which are returned to the state’s public treasury.

Early this year, the Organization held a public auction in which it sold 712 used machines in a number of its branches in the governorates, the value of which amounted to about 24 billion Syrian pounds.

In a previous public auction in December 2020, 499 cars were presented, of which about 90 percent were sold at a value of 27 billion Syrian pounds.

 

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