UK: Assad cash loophole closed
UK Foreign secretary, William Hague attends the 9th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Regional Security Summit in the Bahraini capital, Manama. [AFP]
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Britain has decided to tighten sanctions on the Syrian regime after it discovered that President Bashar al-Assad and his associates duped European governments into releasing hundreds of millions of euros from frozen bank accounts.
“The UK has closed a loophole in EU-Syria sanctions to prevent the release of millions of euros of assets belonging to the Assad regime and its affiliates,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Saturday, according to the Sunday Times.
Hague said that “hundreds of millions of euros” would no longer be available to “fuel Assad’s war machine.”
The cash - which had been frozen across the European Union since the beginning Syria's civil war - was diverted by Assad’s regime to feed his army instead of war's starving victims as it pretended.
“The evidence is clear that the regime and its financial backers will use every opportunity available to them to serve their own ends - war and profit - rather than help Syrians in serious need of humanitarian help,” Hague added.
Under the new sanctions plan – to be implemented this week - only the United Nations will be allowed to unfreeze assets for humanitarian purposes.
The U.N. and a network of partner charities will be in charge for distributing aid in the war-torn country.
Through its World Food Programme (WFP), the U.N. has assisted an estimated nine million people displaced by the war both inside and outside Syria.
Since the beginning of the civil war in 2011, both individuals and companies have been blacklisted by the European Union and their assets in the region were frozen.
British officials have received several requests in 2013 from European and Syrian companies to unfreeze assets needed for humanitarian purposes.
The applicants had to specify the amount of money they needed as well as the exact reason to their request.
All requests were rejected by the British Treasury, but a November report showed how sanctions had been unlocked elsewhere, according to Reuters.
In the report, Tarek al-Taweel, the head of Syria’s General Foreign Trade Organization said that the Paris-based Union de Banques Arabes et Françaises (UBAF) had been “very cooperative” in releasing money.
The report also revealed that Union de Banques Arabes et Françaises (UBAF), which is partly owned by a subsidiary of French banking giant Crédit Agricole, confirmed that it had released funds after authorization from the French economy and finance ministry.
The ministry did not comment on the report.
Several shipments of wheat and barley were transported from France to Syria throughout the year, the report added.
The total unfrozen assets across the EU are estimated to run into the equivalent of hundreds of millions of euros, which represents a large proportion of all the Syrian regime assets frozen in Europe, according to the report.
EU foreign ministers will discuss in Brussels the tightening of the sanctions due to be operational this weekend.