x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Switzerland and EU freeze al Assad's assets

Swiss authorities freeze assets of the Syrian president, adding to a chorus of voices calling for an end to violence against protesters.

New sanctions from the EU and Switzerland are putting renewed financial pressure on Bashar al Assad, the Syrian president, and other senior government officials.

Switzerland late on Tuesday froze Mr al Assad's assets, extending an earlier freeze that targeted officials accused of orchestrating a violent crackdown on protests.

A total of 23 Syrian officials are now subject to asset freezes in Switzerland.

"If someone represses his own people like that, responds to peaceful demonstrations with force, this can't be left unanswered by the European Union," Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, told Reuters this week after the EU imposed new sanctions on the Syrian leader.

The US also slapped Syria with new sanctions this month, but the UN has yet to add its voice to a growing chorus calling for harsher measures against the regime.

State-controlled Syrian media have decried the actions, saying they ignore reforms proposed to satisfy protesters, including lifting a long-standing state of emergency.

More than 900 people have died in Syria in recent months at the hands of government security forces putting down anti-regime protests primarily in the country's south.

The response in Europe mirrors swift action taken against other regimes in the Middle East after violent responses to uprisings.

Freezes have been imposed by dozens of countries against Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, the former Tunisian president, Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president, and Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, who is fighting a civil war.

Switzerland has been particularly quick to move against embattled Middle Eastern leaders as it vies to shed a reputation as a haven for the assets of dictators and criminals. Ghanem Nuseibeh,a partner at Cornerstone Global Associates and senior analyst with Political Capital, said the targeting of Mr al Assad was a precursor to more stringent action from the international community. "The freeze of the Assad assets was a necessary step to give confidence to the international community and many in the Arab streets that there are no double standards when it comes to dealing with humanitarian issues," he said, adding that western countries needed to make clear that such actions were motivated by humanitarian concerns, not political ones.

"Asset freezes are usually the first tool to use against a regime, first by targeting key lieutenants," he said. "The fact that [Mr al] Assad himself has been targeted now indicates that we are only one step away from further, more substantial action."

As international pressure grows on Mr al Assad and other targets in the region, interim governments in Tunisia and Egypt are making their own efforts to cleanse their political and financial systems of decades of political corruption and prosecute people responsible for violence.

Egypt's top prosecutor said yesterday that Mr Mubarak would be put on trial in connection with the killing of protesters and could face the death penalty.