Legal Briefing- Mid-February 2017

Property

  • The Minister of Justice reiterated to Syrian MPs that any sales or purchases of immovable properties in conflict areas are null and void.
  • The Supreme Investment Council approved the incorporation of a real estate company with the support of the Prime Minister. The company is comprised of the General Housing Establishment, public banks, and the Zubeidi and Qalai Company with a total of SYP 50 billion. Parts of the company’s shares are to be offered for public subscription in order to support urban development and meet housing demand in Syria.

Finance

  • According to the Financial Investigative Judge in Rural Damascus, it is permissible for Syrians and foreign nationals to bring in and take out the equivalent of $1 million (US) and more in foreign currencies but they must declare the amounts. Such persons wishing to bring in to Syria or take that much cash out of the country must seek authorization at the Syrian border. The rules apply especially in the case of US Dollars. Foreign currencies being brought into Syria do not have to be deposited in the Central Bank or any other Syrian bank for that matter as Syrian law regards the amounts as private property. Nevertheless, it is foreseeable that people will be hesitant to declare that much cash at the border.
  • It was also held that Syrians taking out more than $10,000 (US) from Syria without declaring it to the border authorities will face criminal prosecution.
  • Only Syrian Pounds can be used in any domestic transactions as dealings in other currencies incur criminal liability. The aim of the government is to avoid the dollarization of the economy and hence, support the Syrian Pound to prevent hyperinflation.
  • Banking crimes today are subject to the jurisdiction of specialized banking courts. Crimes of an economic nature are provided for in the Economic Criminal Code, which was last updated in 2013. There is also a designated Financial Prosecutor as well. Most financial crimes are handled by the Directorate of Justice in Damascus since offenders are usually caught at Damascus International Airport. There are not as many crimes in Rural Damascus since the city of Damascus is the center of commercial activity. Financial crimes in 2016 led to a doubling of lawsuits to 2,000 cases.
  • The Central Bank sought clarifications about the credit facilities being offered by banks.

Taxation

  • The Customs Directorate reviewed the latest Customs Bill, which seeks to replace the current 2006 Law. The Bill aims to reflect international practices and combat the phenomenon of smuggling.
  • Syrian MPs deliberated on the need to reform taxation and financial laws and to combat corruption in the Customs Directorate to shore up revenues for the Public Treasury. The Minister of Finance assured MPs that there was no plan to impose new taxes on Syrians. He also stressed to MPs the importance of differentiating between taxes and fees. Fees are imposed on certain services stemming from airport departures and automobile purchases for instance.

Insurance

  • The People’s Assembly approved the establishment of civil courts with the exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate on insurance-related disputes. Subsequently, the Insurance Courts Law 5/2017 was enacted and it sets up civil courts of first instance and appeal in each of the Syrian provinces.
  • The Economic Committee linked to the Council of Ministers reminded importers that if they wish to insure their goods, the law provides that they must do so with a Syrian insurance company.
  • The Syrian Insurance Supervisory Commission started studying the advantages and disadvantages of Regulation 49/2009, which mandates compulsory insurance for public facilities.

Commerce

  • The Prime Minister instructed the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade to expand the list of import licenses in order to help increase production and prevent monopolies in the markets.
  • There was discussion that martial justice may await those pursuing monopolistic practices and manipulating the prices of goods in the markets.
  • The government plans to control the distribution of oil derivate products in an effort to curb monopolistic practices.

Industry

  • The government further discussed the need to allow industrialists to import much-needed diesel.
  • The Supreme Investment Council approved a request from a private company to establish a plant for cooking gas cylinders in one of the free zones.

Mineral Resources

  • The People’s Assembly approved a bill on the state’s right to protect mineral resources and prevent their illegal extraction, transfer and distribution. The Mineral Resources Law 7/2017 was subsequently enacted. According to Article 2, the state has the right to claim mineral resources extracted by the public, private and joint sectors and any subsequent revenues shall be transferred to the Public Treasury. Article 3 determines the value of the state’s right, which can be adjusted annually by a decision from the Minister of Finance. The previous legislation regulating this sector was provided for in the Mineral Resources Law 67/2006.

Transport

  • Law 26/2016 raises fee collections for driving licenses in all categories. The Law amends Article 34 of Legislative Decree 117/1961, which was also amended by Legislative Decree 66/2013. The Ministry of Interior is also planning to issue automated tamper-proof licenses.

Judiciary

  • Syrian MPs called for automating the work of the courts in all cities during a parliamentary session in which they were responding to the Minister of Justice. They called for facilitating the litigation procedures, speeding up court hearings and rendering judgments on lawsuits.
  • The Legal Affairs Department, which represents the Syrian state in lawsuits, is seeking to adopt automation and electronic signatures in its work. Automation is part of the efforts being pursued by the Ministry of Justice to revolutionize its work practices.
  • The Legal Affairs Department examined more than 300,000 lawsuits filed by the state last year with 508 lawyers working on them. The Department was awarded SYP 17.65 billion in proceeds after winning 3,434 lawsuits out of 4,011 in total. Any transfers of lawsuits from conflict zones to safe areas in Damascus and other places in this respect must be authorized by the Supreme Judicial Council. The Department has also taken action against unruly lawyers through the Lawyers Disciplinary Council. While on this subject, a bill to improve the operations of the Legal Affairs Department has been on the table since at least 2015.

Reconstruction

  • The Council of Ministers approved a draft reconstruction plan entitled the National Program for Post-War Syria.

Civil Status

  • Syria amended its Civil Status Law provided for in Legislative Decree 26/2007 to address and reflect current conflict-related challenges. The amendments were enacted by virtue of Law 4/2017. Thus, any change in a Syrian citizen’s civil status abroad is deemed valid if it is legally compliant in that country and does not conflict with Syrian law. The civil status amendment overseas must be registered with the Syrian embassy, consulate or body representing Syrian interests in the respective country. If one of the spouses is a foreign national, the registration of the marriage requires the approval of the Ministry of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs. A husband and wife must subsequently obtain what is known as a ‘family card’. Other amendments provide for a fine of SYP 15,000 to be paid in the event a non-registered person does not apply for civil status registration within one year after they turn 18.

Children

  • The government approved a bill that provides for children whose parents are unknown to be cared for since there has been a sudden increase in such instances during the war.
  • Legislation is being prepared to protect the rights of children and to curb child labour practices.

Criminal Law

  • The People’s Assembly approved amendments to the Electricity Theft Law to address the challenges under the present circumstances. Lack of electricity became a severe problem after power stations and gas fields were attacked during the current conflict.
  • It was determined in mid-February that there had been 2,541 cases of forgery in Damascus. However, sophisticated criminal laboratories and automated powers of attorney would help to curb these practices.
  • The Minister of Justice stressed that the Ministry will take action against states, international organizations and individuals complicit in the Syrian war.

International

  • At one point, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked US President Donald Trump to recognize Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights. Netanyahu argued that Israeli sovereignty should be extended over the occupied Golan Heights because apparently he does not know which authority in Syria to hand back the Golan Heights to due to the presence of ‘various factions’ in the country. Despite the blatant insincerity behind such a statement, it is clear that the UN-recognized Syrian state is the legitimate authority in Syria.
  • Syria condemned the Israeli Knesset bill to legalize settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law.

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