France freezes company assets over Syria chemical weapons links

France freezes company assets over Syria chemical weapons links
3 min read
18 May, 2018
France has sanctioned nine companies and three individuals suspected of developing chemical weapons for the Syrian regime.
The companies have links to a Syrian research agency thought to develop chemical weapons [Getty]
France announced on Friday morning it had frozen the assets of three individuals and nine companies suspected of developing chemical weapons for the Syrian regime, Reuters reported.

The sanctions were taken against companies based in Syria, Lebanon and China and will last for six months.

The businesses include Sigmatec and the Al Mahrous Group, both based in Damascus; Technolab in Lebanon; and a trading company in Guangzhou in China, according to a list published in the government's official gazette.

Two Syrian nationals will also face asset freezes, as well as a person born in Lebanon in 1977 whose nationality was not given.

In a joint statement, France's Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the action had been taken amid a crackdown on networks and individuals suspected of helping Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC).

Several countries including the US have accused the centre, a Syrian government agency, of assisting in the development of chemical weapons for Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"Three people and nine companies have been targeted for their role in the research and/or acquisition of materials for the development of chemicals and ballistic weapons for this country," the statement said.

In January, France sanctioned 25 people and companies based in Syria, and also French, Lebanese and Chinese citizens, over suspicions of fuelling the development of chemical weapons in the war-ravaged country.

The companies targeted included importers and distributors of metals, electronics, logistics and shipping.

In the wake of the devastating Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack in April 2017, the US blacklisted 271 employees of the SSRC. The sanctions meant that US bank froze the assets of the employees, and banned American companies from conducting business with them. 

Fact-finding report

At least 90 people are thought to have died in Khan Sheikhoun from sarin poisoning during an alleged chemical attack by the Russian-backed Syrian regime.

There have been 85 chemical attacks across Syria since 2013, the vast majority of which were carried out by the regime, according to Human Rights Watch. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic has confirmed 34 incidents.

Some thirty countries will meet in Paris on Friday to put in place mechanisms to better identify and punish those responsible for using nerve agents such as sarin and chlorine in attacks.

After hundreds of people were killed in chemical attacks near Damascus in August 2013, a landmark deal with Russia was struck to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stash, staving off US airstrikes.

Despite the deal, a suspected chlorine and sarin attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7 triggered a wave of punitive missile strikes against alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria by the United States, Britain and France.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is due to soon release a fact-finding report into the suspected Douma attack.

The poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain last March has also sparked a diplomatic stand-off between Russia and Western powers, which see the hand of Moscow behind the attack.

"After disappearing for nearly 20 years, the return of chemical weapons in the hands of both state and non-state actors in Iraq, Syria, Asia or Europe demands the resolute mobilisation of the international community," the French ministers said in their statement.

Agencies contributed to this report.