The European Union has rejected appeals from two Syrian businessmen to be removed from its sanctions lists, including one figure who had already been delisted by the EU Council, sending a confusing signal for other sanctioned individuals seeking to cut regime ties in exchange for relief from sanctions.
On December 16, the EU General Court said that it had rejected two applications from the businessmen Maen Haykal and George Heswani, both of whom had asked the court to remove their names from the EU sanctions list.
Mr Haykal had already been delisted from EU sanctions in May after he scrapped plans to take part in the controversial Marota City development in Damascus. His partner, Hayan Qaddour, was also delisted.
At that time, Mr Haykal’s delisting was seen as a strong signal to blacklisted Syrian individuals that by taking similar measures they could seek to be removed from sanctions lists. The General Court’s decision therefore could create some confusion in the European Union’s efforts to use sanctions as a tool to pressure businessmen to cut or reduce ties with the Syrian regime.
According to Ibrahim Olabi, a Syrian lawyer qualified in the United Kingdom who heads the Syrian Legal Development Programme, a London-based NGO, Mr Haykal had appealed his listing through two separate processes: both writing directly to the EU Council—the body which imposes sanctions—and through the court system. Despite a political decision to delist Mr Haykal, the judicial process appears to have taken a separate course, relying on evidence which was relevant at the time of appeal but no longer up to date when the judgment was published.
Mr Olabi said: “The court’s reasoning is around his business activity generally, and with Marota City specifically. The court did not take into account that he severed his Marota involvement in its judgment, nor that he was delisted by the council. It could have published a disclaimer saying that the evidence is no longer up to date. This created confusion as to what happened.”
Mr Olabi said it was possible that Mr Haykal may have neglected to follow up on his court case and withdraw his application after the EU Council’s decision—a reasonable move since the political decision in this case would supersede the judicial process.
Given that Mr Haykal is technically no longer sanctioned, the rejection of his appeal in the courts will not impact him or his business activities. But the fact that the political and judicial processes can seem to result in different decisions to a non-specialist audience could send an ambiguous signal to other figures who are seeking to take similar measures.
Mr Haykal is primarily active in the field of real estate development through his firm Exceed Development and Investment. The company’s involvement in the Marota City development appeared to be the main reason for his blacklisting by the EU in 2019. The EU Council explained its decision to delist Mr Haykal last year by saying that he and his partner had been delisted because they had “halted their sanctionable behaviour.”
The Marota City project has proven exceptionally controversial both because of the involvement of high-profile regime-linked investors, as well as the fact that it is being built on territory previously occupied by residents considered supportive of the opposition, and is thus seen as an example of forcible displacement and appropriation.
The case of the other businessman, Mr Heswani, is complicated due to the nature of his activities in the oil and gas sectors, particularly given his reported involvement in negotiations with the militant group ISIS. He has been under sanctions since 2015, and has had several appeals dismissed, most recently in July. Recent media reports have also linked a company affiliated with Mr Heswani to purchases of the ammonium nitrate that resulted in the explosion in Beirut’s port last year.
Text of the decision dismissing Maen Haykal’s latest appeal
Text of the decision delisting Maen Haykal – EU Council