Asset Freeze on Syraian Nationals Kept in Place

     (CN) – Two Syrian nationals with ties to President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime have no basis to fight the freeze on their assets, Europe’s general court ruled Friday.
     The Council of the European Union has been freezing the assets of individuals involved with the violent repression of peaceful protests in Syria in 2011. Lawmakers first blacklisted Syrian intelligence officer Eyad Makhlouf – brother of Syrian billionaire Rami Makhlouf and Assad’s cousin – for his role in suppressing what was known then as the Beirut Spring.
     When the council extended the freeze to individuals and benefits benefiting from or supporting the Assad regime later that year, it added agribusiness tycoon Issam Anbouba to the list. Council documents supporting Anbouba’s inclusion accused him of “providing financial support for the repressive apparatus and the paramilitary groups exerting violence against the civil population in Syria” and “providing property (premises, warehouses) for improvised detention centers,” according to a statement by the court. (Parentheses in original.)
     Makhlouf and Anbouba appealed their inclusion on the blacklist, claiming that lawmakers’ failure to properly notify them of the freeze made it impossible to mount a defense. Both men also accused the council of failing to give sufficient reasons for the sanctions.
     The Luxembourg-based General Court of the European Union dismissed the actions Friday in a trio of decisions – only one of which is in English – finding that the council followed proper procedure in applying sanctions against the men.
     “The court points out that, after the inclusion of each of them on the list, the council published a notice in the Official Journal informing them of their inclusion and notifying them of the fact that they could submit their observations to the council,” the general court said in a statement. “The fact that that notification took place after the first inclusion on the list cannot be regarded in itself as constituting an infringement of the rights of defense. Any prior notification of the grounds would have been liable to jeopardize the effectiveness of the freezing of funds and economic resources, which must, by their very nature, have a surprise effect and apply with immediate effect. In both cases, it is clear from the fact that those two persons brought actions before the court within the prescribed periods that they were afforded the opportunity to defend themselves effectively against the measures at issue.”
     Lawmakers also gave sufficient grounds for including the men on the blacklist, both in its initial May 2011 decision to begin sanctions and later that year, the court noted. Neither Makhlouf nor Anbouba gave any evidence to support the theory that the council erred in deciding to blacklist them, according to the ruling.
     In Anbouba’s case the court upheld the council’s conclusion that, as a leading Syrian businessman, he supports the Assad regime.
     “The court states that, in the light of the authoritarian nature of the Syrian regime and of the close control that the state exercises over the Syrian economy, the council was justified in taking the view that the activities of one of the principal Syrian businessmen, operating in numerous sectors, could not have succeeded without enjoying the favors of that regime and in return providing a level of support for that regime,” the court said. “In light of the importance and nature of the objectives pursued by the measures concerned, which consist, in particular, in ending the repression carried out by the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his regime against their own population, that assumption appears to be proportionate.”
     Both men have two months to appeal the general court’s decisions to the Court of Justice, Europe’s highest court.

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