Assad niece forfeits £25k of Syrian regime cash held in London bank account

Martin Bentham
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Assad niece forfeits £25k of Syrian regime cash held in London bank account

A niece of Syria’s president Assad today agreed to forfeit thousands of pounds held in a London bank account after a court heard it was Syrian regime cash that had been brought into Britain.

Anisseh Chawkat, 22, described by her barrister as a “model student”, had £151,387 paid into her Barclays account through a series of 56 cash deposits over two years.

The National Crime Agency said the transactions effectively amounted to a breach of international sanctions imposed on Ms Chawkat’s mother Bushra and President Assad.

The NCA had already been to court to have £24,688 cash still left in the account frozen and today won possession of this money after hearing that Ms Chawkat was not contesting its forfeiture.

Setting out its case, the agency’s barrister Nadeem Ahmad told Westminster magistrates that law enforcers had told Barclays last year that Ms Chawkat, who had been studying in London since 2014, had “family links to the Syrian regime” and obtained a freezing order preventing the remaining cash in her account from being spent.

Mr Ahmad said the nature of the transactions indicated money laundering or, in this case, an effort to evade international financial sanctions imposed on the Assad regime.

He said this meant that although there was no evidence of wrongdoing or criminal conduct by Ms Chawkat, “the presence of the account funds are a circumvention of EU financial sanctions designed to restrict the availability and use of Syrian regime funds”.

Ms Chawkat did not appear in court but her barrister Zubair Ahmad QC said that she had cooperated with the NCA investigation and was a “law-abiding” person who had been a “model student” during her five years in London.

Mr Ahmad said Ms Chawkat also had “no political involvement” and had arranged separate “independent funding” since having her Barclays account seized by the NCA.

Barclays bank was not represented at today’s hearing and no explanation was provided to the court as to why the nature of the payments going into Ms Chawkat’s account had not raised concerns prior to the NCA’s intervention.