US Congress demands answers after sanctions on Assad-linked companies dropped
Three members of the US House of Representatives have written to the Biden administration demanding an investigation into the reported lifting of sanctions on businesses owned by a Syrian entrepreneur linked to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
A letter addressed to US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen by Republican congressman Bryan Steil, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, and two of his colleagues has asked for "copies of all documents and communications" related to the removal of a number of companies and individuals associated with Samer Foz from the US sanctions list.
The US imposed sanctions on Foz in 2019, saying he had built luxury hotels and facilities on land stolen from Syrian refugees.
"This Syrian oligarch is directly supporting the murderous Assad regime and building luxury developments on land stolen from those fleeing his brutality," Sigal Mandelker, who was undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence under former US President Donald Trump, said at the time.
Last week the US Treasury Department Dubai-based ASM International General Trading Company and Silver Pine DMCC associated with Foz from its sanctions list.
In their letter to Yellen, the Congressmen linked the removal to talks between the Biden administration and Iran in Vienna over a return to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, noting that Iranian entities had also been removed from the Treasury Department's sanctions list.
Iran has been a key backer of the Assad regime ever since the Syrian conflict began in 2011 with the brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests.
In 2018, the Trump administration pulled out of the 2015 JCPOA agreement, imposing stringent sanctions on Iran. Recently talks over a US return to the deal have made progress.
The letter said that "there was inadequate consultation with Congress" before Foz's companies were removed from the sanctions list, rejecting a previous statement by the US Treasury Department that "these delistings are a result of a verified change in behaviour or status on the part of the sanctioned parties".
"I want answers as to whether these individuals and entities - now removed from US sanctions - are still committing sanctionable conduct like funding the brutal Assad regime in Syria or terrorism around the world," Steil told the conservative US media outlet Washington Free Beacon.
"I remain concerned that this is another concession by the United States in an effort to appease Iran and rejoin the flawed Iran nuclear deal," he added.
Last year, the Trump administration imposed a range of sanctions on individuals and companies associated with the Assad regime under the Caesar Act. It said this was in response to the regime's torture and killing of tens of thousands of political detainees and brutal bombardment of civilian areas.
The sanctions were welcomed by the Syrian opposition.