France freezes company assets over Syria chemical weapons

French Minister for the Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire speaks at a press conference at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia on April 28, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 19 May 2018
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France freezes company assets over Syria chemical weapons

  • The asset freezes were signed by French Finance minister Bruno Le Maire
  • The businesses include Sigmatec and the Al Mahrous Group, both based in Damascus, Technolab in Lebanon, and a trading company in Guangzhou in China

PARIS: France on Friday imposed a six-month asset freeze on companies based in Syria, Lebanon and China after they were linked to an alleged chemical weapons program in Syria.

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.

 

Hand in glove

The asset freezes were signed by French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire.

In a statement, Le Maire and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the individuals and businesses were working with the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), which they described as Syria’s main laboratory producing chemical weapons and ballistic launchers.

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

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

Syrian children receive treatment for a suspected chemical attack at a makeshift clinic in Al-Shifuniyah in the Eastern Ghouta region. AFP/file

 

Aziz Allouche, the owner of Technolab, told AFP that his company supplied only universities, schools and professional education centers with electronic and industrial gear such as spectrum analysis equipment.

“I’m surprised by this news, I don’t work with France,” Allouche said. “If they want to question me, they’re welcome to.”

Technolab and Allouche are also among several companies and individuals whose assets have been frozen by US officials over suspected support for Syria’s SSRC.

“All my business involves the civil sector. But the equipment I provide can be used for either civil or military purposes,” Allouche said.

“If I supply a university and they use it for something else, how is that my fault?“

Some 30 countries 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 this year triggered a wave of punitive missile strikes against alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria by the US, Britain and France.

Sites operated by the SSRC were among those targeted in the strikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

The Organization 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 with a nerve agent in Britain in 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 mobilization of the international community,” the French ministers said in their statement.


Former Egyptian president Morsi buried in Cairo: lawyer

Updated 18 June 2019
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Former Egyptian president Morsi buried in Cairo: lawyer

  • Morsi, was suffering from a benign tumor, had continuous medical attention, says state TV
  • The former president died aged 67

CAIRO: Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi was buried on Tuesday in eastern Cairo, one of his lawyers said, a day after he collapsed in court and died.

“He was buried in Medinat Nasr, in eastern Cairo, with his family present. The funeral prayer was said in Tora prison hospital” where he was declared dead on Monday, his lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud said.

Egyptian state television announced that Morsi, 67, who was ousted by the military on July 3, 2013, had been attending a court session at his trial on charges of espionage and links with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

It was reported that he collapsed in the courtroom inside a glass cage he and others had been sharing, before his body was transferred to a local hospital.

Morsi died from a sudden heart attack, state television reported early on Tuesday, citing a medical source. The source said the former president, who was suffering from a benign tumor, had continuous medical attention.

Attorney-General Nabil Sadiq issued a statement saying: “The accused, Mohammed Morsi, in the presence of the other defendants inside the cage, fell unconscious, where he was immediately transferred to the hospital.

“The preliminary medical report stated that by external medical examination they found no pulse, no breathing, and his eyes were unresponsive to light. He died at 4:50 p.m. and no apparent injuries to the body were found.”

Sadiq added he had ordered the transfer of teams from the Supreme State Security Prosecution Office and the Southern Cairo Prosecution Office to conduct an investigation into Morsi’s death, and to examine surveillance footage from the courtroom and collect witness testimonies.

He also ordered that a senior forensic committee headed by the chief medical officer and the director of forensic medicine to prepare a forensic report on the cause of death.

Various outlets say that a state of high alert has been issued by the military and the Ministry of the Interior throughout the country following the news, for fear of riots or activity by the Muslim Brotherhood, in which Morsi was a prominent figure.

Morsi became president in June 2012 after the first democratic elections in the country following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 25, 2011. He was Egypt’s fifth president.

He was born to a family of farmers on Aug. 20, 1951, in the village of Al-Adwa in Sharkia province. He married in 1978 and leaves behind his wife, five children and three grandchildren.

Following his deposition and arrest, Morsi was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on Oct. 22, 2016, over bloody clashes that took place on Dec. 5, 2012 in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and opponents of Morsi rejecting a constitutional declaration issued in November of that year.

Other sentences meant his total incarceration could have been up to 48 years, with the ongoing espionage case potentially carrying a further maximum sentence of 25 years.

In Istanbul on Tuesday, hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters took to the streets, mourning former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi and some chanting slogans blaming Cairo authorities for his death.

* With AFP