Chinese Firm's Assets Frozen By France Over Alleged Links To Syria's Chemical Weapons

Despite the fact that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has yet to produce its fact-finding report into last month's alleged chemical attack in Douma, France has implicated and moved on a Chinese firm said to be connected with Syria's chemical weapon's program.

France has frozen the assets of multiple international and Middle East companies, including a China based trading company over links to the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) - also widely known by its French initials CERS - which is the Syrian government's chief defense technology and missile research arm widely blamed for producing Syria's chemical weapons. 

Chinese and Syrian businessmen shake hands behind their national flags during a meeting in Beijing, on May 8, 2017. Image via Reuters.

The South China Morning Post reports via the AFP:

The businesses include Sigmatec and the Al Mahrous Group, both based in Damascus; Technolab in Lebanon; and a trading company in Guangzhou in China, according to a list published in the government’s official gazette.

Two Syrian nationals will also face asset freezes, as well as a person born in Lebanon in 1977 whose nationality was not given.

The asset freezes were signed by French Finance minister Bruno Le Maire.

French finance minister Le Maire and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in public statements linked the businesses to CERS, which they alleged is "the main Syrian laboratory in charge of developing and producing unconventional chemical weapons and ballistic launchers.” 

Last month's US-led airstrikes on Damascus primarily targeted sites connected with CERS such as the Barzeh research center, which was destroyed by well over a dozen tomahawk missile strikes; however, the OPCW during prior routine inspections connected with the late 2013 US-Russia brokered deal to decommission Syria's sarin stockpiles reported that it found "no evidence" of chemical weapons at the site

Over the past years of war in Syria, France has consistently accused President Bashar al-Assad of both using chemical weapons on civilians and misleading weapons inspectors as to the current status of his program, in spite of both former Secretary of State John Kerry and OPCW inspectors declaring the 2013-2014 decommissioning process a monumental success. France was part of the US-led coalition that launched a massive missile attack against Damascus and other locations in Syria on April 13. 

John Kerry in May of 2014 to CNN: "We got all of the chemical weapons out." 

In April 2017 France produced an intelligence paper which attempted to cast doubt over Syria's US-Russian sponsored decommissioning of its chemical program: "France assesses that major doubts remain as to the accuracy, exhaustiveness and sincerity of the decommissioning of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal,” the paper stated.

Concerning the latest asset freeze targeting Chinese and other international companies with links to the Damascus based Syrian research center, the French ministers' joint statement identified a total of nine companies implicated, according to Reuters: “Three people and nine companies have been targeted for their role in the research and/or acquisition of materials for the development of chemicals and ballistic weapons for this country,” the statement said.

The punitive measures come just as some 30 countries are set to meet in Paris on Friday to discuss erecting international mechanisms aimed at identifying and punishing countries involved in the development and use of internationally banned chemical weapons. 

Last January France announced that it sanctioned 25 individuals and companies over suspected links to Syria's program, which also included Chinese citizens. China has been long positioned itself as the chief international investor in post-war Syria, with Defense One news reporting that "Over the past year, Chinese-Syrian negotiations over trade and investment expanded from early diplomatic exchanges to commitments of nearly $2 billion in reconstruction contracts. China has become Syria’s largest trade partner, snapping up 80 percent of its exports."

As China eyes rebuilding Syria in close economic partnership with Damascus, its companies will likely increasingly be targeted by the West, itself hopeful of sweeping up the economic spoils of a post-Assad Syria.