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Thu 23 May 2019 08:51 AM

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How Britain's NCA stopped payments to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's niece

In an unprecedented case, a member of Syria's ruling Assad family has forfeited the contents of her UK bank account.

How Britain's NCA stopped payments to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's niece
Following an NCA investigation, a forfeiture order was granted in London on Tuesday on a sum of £24,668.24 held by 22-year-old Aniseh Chawkat, the niece of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The case of the niece of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad being forced to empty her British bank account after receiving £150,000 ($189,676) from relatives should act as a ‘significant deterrent’ to others, Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has said.

Following an NCA investigation, a forfeiture order was granted in London on Tuesday on a sum of £24,668.24 held by 22-year-old Aniseh Chawkat.

Rob MacArthur from the NCA’s International Corruption Unit told Arabian Business that Shawkat’s case represents the first account forfeiture in relation to the circumvention of financial sanctions.

“I estimate that this will be a significant deterrent,” said MacArthur.

Investigators found Chawkat benefited from 56 cash deposits into her Barclays account in 2017 and 2018. The NCA discovered that the payments were made at branches of the bank across England, as a way of getting around EU sanctions to restrict funds from the Syrian regime.

Freezing order

Chawkat's father Assef Shawkat was the Syrian deputy Minister of Defence between 2011 and his death in 2012, and both her mother Bushra Al-Assad and uncle, the Syrian President, are subject to international sanctions.

MacArthur said that investigators applied for an account freezing order in November 2018 and Chawkat assisted the investigation by providing her consent for the NCA to access her Barclay’s bank account statements.

MacArthur said: “We identified payments that totalled more than £150,000, despite her having no identifiable source of income. This activity is consistent with the use of an informal value transfer system which may result in the laundering of criminal cash and, in this particular case, had the effect of circumventing EU financial sanctions designed to restrict the use and availability of Syrian regime funds.”

NCA inquiries found that Chawkat rented a London flat for more than £60,000 per year.

A Barclays spokesperson told Arabian Business in a statement: “We have worked with and supported the NCA with this investigation and welcome the outcome of these proceedings. We take the application of anti money laundering rules extremely seriously.”

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