Explained: What Happens to Assets Confiscated from Syrians Convicted of “Terrorism”?

Syria’s Counterterrorism Court was established byLaw No. 22 of 2012, with the purpose of implementing the provisions of Anti-Terrorism Law No. 19 of that same year. The court is politically biased and directed at retribution towards opponents of the regime, generalising them as “terrorists,” which allows it to confiscate their properties.

The court is headquartered in Damascus and consists of three judges who are named by decree. Law No. 22 also permitted, when necessary, the creation of more than one chamber in the court by decree of the High Judicial Council. The court was restructured several times through Decrees No. 255 of 2018, No. 117 of 2019 and No. 69 of 2020, which added amendments to the courtrooms and their judge appointments.

Laws No. 22 and No. 19 of 2012 did not specify the terms and procedures for litigation. Instead, Article 7 of Law No. 22 stipulates that the Counterterrorism Court does not adhere to the same principles laid out in the legislation applied by ordinary courts. The Counterterrorism Court is at its own discretion in applying these principles, which runs counter to the most basic principles of fair trial for individuals. This also contradicts Article 51 of the 2012 constitution, which states that the right to litigation, legal recourse and defence before the court is protected by the law.

The Counterterrorism Court also tries civilians, soldiers, and juveniles alike, in contravention of the rules of jurisdiction. Judges for the court are appointed by the president, which violates the principle of separation of powers.

Confiscation of property and assets

Article 12 of Anti-Terrorism Law No. 19 of 2012 explicitly states that in all crimes stipulated in the law, the court shall rule to confiscate movable and immovable property. In this way, the law generalised these crimes—the penalty issued against those convicted in alleged terrorism cases would be the confiscation of their properties. And before the verdict is issued, court authorities freeze the accused party’s assets.

Consequently, if an acquittal ruling is issued, then the freeze is meant to be cancelled. If there is a conviction, then the freeze will become a full confiscation. Such measures to freeze assets prior to confiscation do not differ in substance from precautionary seizures, which become executive seizures after a final court ruling.

Confiscation requires a court ruling, according to successive Syrian constitutions. Previously, confiscation was imposed by Legislative Decrees No. 23 of 1965 and No. 29 of 1969, against those accused of obstructing the “process of socialist transformation.” However, the properties confiscated in accordance with these two decrees were not transferred to state ownership and remained formally in the name of their original owners, despite being leased by the Ministry of Finance’s Department of Confiscated Assets.

What is new in Law No. 19 of 2012 is that confiscation now refers to the permanent removal of movable and immovable properties, as well as transfer of their ownership to the state according to a court ruling. After Law No. 19 was released, confiscations expanded to an unprecedented scope, prompting the Ministry of Finance to create a Directorate for Confiscated Assets. The directorate is larger than the previous Department of Confiscated Assets and has multiple departments.

Mechanism for confiscating properties

After the issuance of a final ruling by the Counterterrorism Court, including confiscation of movable and immovable properties, the Ministry of Justice must transfer a copy of the ruling to the Ministry of Finance to confiscate the movable properties. The Ministry of Justice also sends a copy to the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, which is in charge of confiscating immovable properties. The Ministry of Agriculture has the mandate over such properties, according to the provisions of State Property Law No. 252 of 1959.

However, in reality, the Ministry of Finance is implementing confiscations of both movable and immovable properties. It is doing this on the pretext that Martial Order No. 4562, which was issued on 26 September 2010, gave it and its directorates across Syria’s governorates the responsibility of managing and investing the confiscated properties. The ministry was also assigned this task by Council of Ministers Letter No. 9310, issued on 4 June 2015. Martial orders are issued in the event of war, which disrupts ordinary laws and the constitution, and restricts individual rights and freedoms. Such orders are issued by the executive authority represented by the martial governor, rather than by the legislative or judicial authority.

In order to complete the confiscation process, the Ministry of Finance’s Directorate of Confiscated Assets circulates the corresponding court ruling to public authorities, in order to request any relevant information. For example, if the convicted defendant owned real estate, then the Land Registry would send a list of record numbers to the Finance Ministry directorate in the governorates where the defendant’s real estate is located. The directorate then takes stock of the confiscated properties and coordinates with the Real Estate Services Directorate to transfer their ownership to the state. Afterwards, the properties are managed by the Ministry of Finance through the Directorate of Confiscated Assets and its subsidiary departments across Syria.

Cassation and appeals

Articles 5 and 6 of Law No. 22 for 2012 contradicted normal conduct for a judiciary, as they affirmed that the Counterterrorism Court issues and finalises rulings in absentia, and does not accept any type of appeal, retrial, annulment or dropping of sentences.

The law only allowed appeals before a special circuit established by decree in the Court of Cassation. Consequently, judgments issued by the Counterterrorism Court do not accept substantive appeals. That is, it does not reconsider the merits of the case, because the appeals chamber formed in the Court of Cassation is a court of law only, and only examines the validity of the Counterterrorism Court’s application of Terrorism Law No. 19 of 2012.