Some EU Sanctions Tied to Middle East Vacated

     (CN) - An EU court on Wednesday annulled restrictions against a school alleged to have supported nuclear activity in Iran and a former minister of the Syrian government.
     It has been nearly two years since the EU Council added Sharif University of Technology to its list of entities that face an asset freeze among other restrictive measures for either involvement "in nuclear or ballistic missiles activities" or support of Iran's Islamic government.
     In announcing the freeze on the funds and economic resources of Sharif University, the council said that the Tehran-based research institute "is assisting designated entities to violate the provisions of UN and EU sanctions on Iran and is providing support to Iran's proliferation sensitive nuclear activities."
     "As of late 2011 SUT had provided laboratories for use by UN-designated Iranian nuclear entity Kalaye Electric Company (KEC) and EU-designated Iran Centrifuge Technology Company (TESA)," the council said.
     The Luxembourg-based General Court agreed Thursday, however, to temporarily annul those restrictions until the council better discharges its burden of proof.
     Various documents that the council gave Sharif University "contain no information or material which adds anything concerning the content of the contested acts," the court found.
     Indeed the council submitted proposals to list the school that "do not mention anything other than what is produced in the reasons stated in the contested acts," according to the ruling. Another disclosed report extract "contains nothing which relates specifically to the applicant," the court added.
     The council deleted some parts for confidentiality but failed in its obligation to show that disclosure of those materials would jeopardize EU security or international relations.
     Here the council told the court "that the redacted passages in the documents annexed to its letter of 10 June 2013 did not concern the applicant," according to the ruling.
     The court said it also could not credit the council's consideration of information provided by a member state that has "opposed the disclosure of that information, either wholly or in part."
     "The court must therefore hold that the council finds itself unable to provide additional information beyond that already known to the applicant," the opinion states. "Further, the council has provided no explanation of its inability to disclose the information to be found in the separate document mentioned in paragraph 68 above, which it claims to be confidential."
     Considering the disclosed material alone, the court found that "those reasons contain no evidence capable of supporting the council's claims."
     "They prove neither that the applicant made available laboratories to KEC and TESA nor that those laboratories could be of any value to them for their nuclear activities," according to the ruling.
      In so ruling, the court declined to look at an argument that the council raised for the first time at the hearing regarding the structure of the school's trustee board.
     "It follows from all the foregoing that the material available to the Court contains no evidence capable of supporting the Council's claims that the applicant assisted the entities KEC and TESA to violate the provisions of the EU legislation concerning restrictive measures against the Islamic Republic of Iran, or provided direct support to Iranian nuclear activities," the decision states.
     "It follows that the council has not discharged the burden of proof which rested on it."
     The court did, however, give the council two months to correct "the irregularities identified in this judgment ... by providing sufficient evidence to support the reasons for the applicant's listing."
     In a separate ruling Thursday the General Court annulled restrictions against former Syrian minister of economy and trade Mohamad Nedal Alchaar.
     Alchaar had been an active minister in 2011 when the EU Council first included him on its list of persons subject to restrictive measures adopted against Syria. The listing barred him from traveling through EU member states and froze his funds and economic resources.
     Alchaar left office over two years ago, but the council included him on its list again in 2013. The altered explanation for Alchaar's listing explains that he is "associated with the Syrian regime and its violent repression against the civilian population."
     The General Court deemed that reasoning insufficient Thursday.
     "As regards the grounds based on Mr. Alchaar's status as a former minister, and on his links with the regime and his joint responsibility vis-à-vis the violent repression practiced against the civil population, the General Court holds that it was permissible to presume that, even after he left office, Mr. Alchaar still maintained close links with the Syrian regime, provided that that presumption was rebuttable and proportionate and respected the rights of the defense," the court said in a statement.
     Though the council needed to reasonably justify a belief Alchaar "maintained close links with the regime even after leaving office," the court found such evidence lacking.
     Instead "the council improperly reversed the burden of proof by claiming that Mr Alchaar had failed to establish that he was no longer associated with the Syrian regime after he left office," the court added.
     "The Council therefore committed an error of assessment by considering that the listing of Mr, Alchaar was justified solely by reason of his status as a former minister," the statement continues.
     The court also slammed the council for not "carefully and impartially" examining Alchaar's evidence.
     "Mr Alchaar produced two affidavits stating that he did not exercise significant political responsibilities and that he was never a member of the Baath party in Syria," according to the court's statement. "He also stated that it was primarily his experience and his reputation which led to his appointment as a minister and that as a member of the government he was always opposed to the use of violence and the 'security solution.'"
     Without the assumption that Alchaar had acted in bad faith, "there is no reason to doubt the credibility of that information," the court added.
     Alchaar produced several articles as well that "refer to the experience he acquired in the United States, his academic work and to his international reputation as an economist (he has published many works in the economic field and in 2009 was recognized as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world)." (Parentheses in original.)
     "Such international recognition should have prompted the council to examine the reasons which led him to leave ministerial office, rather than presume that he had links with the Syrian regime because he held ministerial office for a brief period," the court wrote.
     The General Court did not have an English translation available of its decision in the Alchaar case.