United States Sanctions Syrian Finance Minister and Russian Bank Involved in Enabling the Assad Regime
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today applauded the Obama Administration’s decision to designate for sanctions the Syrian Minister of Finance, other Syrian cabinet ministers, and Russia-based Tempbank, which appeared to be dealing with the Assad regime.
“For the first time, the Obama Administration is signaling that it is ready to punish Russian financial institutions that have long been suspected of dealing with Syria’s Bashar al Assad,” said Human Rights First’s Sonni Efron. “Today’s sanctions single out senior officials in a regime that is killing its own people, as well as a Russian bank that may have enabled them.”
Human Rights First has called on the United States to investigate a wide range of Syrian, Russian, and other business and financial institutions suspected of feeding the Syrian war supply chain, specifically entities that have provided weapons, financial services, shipping, insurance and fuel. Mass atrocities of the scope and scale seen in Syria require extensive logistical support. It is imperative that U.S. and European sanctions target not only the perpetrators of mass atrocities, but also their enablers – including the banks that have handled transactions for the Assad regime.
The sanctions announced today by the Treasury Department designate Tempbank itself, as well as the chairman of its management committee, Mikhail G. Gagloev. Also named were the Syrian ministers of finance, agriculture, labor, public works and social affairs. The assets of all of these individuals are now frozen. Also named were two Syrian refineries, Banias and Homs.
Reuters was the first to draw attention to Tempbank’s activities after it obtained a fax sent from the Commercial Bank of Syria to Tempbank last August, proposing the opening of a barter account that would allow Damascus to trade goods or oil for foodstuffs that would be shipped from Ukraine. The larger Russian banks have claimed to have no dealings with Assad or his family funds.
Tempbank is a tiny player in the Russian banking market, but it has ties to financial markets in China, Europe and the United States, using Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank as well as Russia’s largest state-owned bank Sberbank, and a foreign office of VTB as intermediary banks, according to Reuters. The Department of Treasury and the Department of State should investigate and determine if these and other entities have ongoing financial dealings with the Syrian regime.
“While many of these officials may not have assets in the United States, they may have accounts in Europe, Russia, Cyprus or many other banking centers,” Efron said. “If we want to disrupt the atrocity supply chain, it’s vital that the European Union join the United States in adopting similar sanctions. Sanctioning Russian banks may cause short-term financial pain in Europe – and to a much lesser extent in the United States – but the economic and moral costs of failure to act are far higher.”