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Syrian Regime Has £100m Assets Frozen By UK

(c) Sky News 2012

The UK Government has located and frozen £100m of Syrian assets under European Union sanctions against the country.

A unit within the Treasury has been working with banks and other financial institutions since the sanctions were adopted in May 2011.

Originally 13 individuals and companies were on the list but that has now expanded to 178, made up of 129 individuals and 49 companies.

The frozen assets have been mostly in the form of money, property and share portfolios and sources familiar with the operation are confident that most the assets have been sourced, although the list of those subject to sanctions is under constant review and subject to further expansion.

The sanctions against Syria were pursued heavily by the UK and France, but so far have been unable to gain full UN approval because of the repeated Russian and Chinese veto.

In addition to the EU, Switzerland, Japan (EUREX: FMJP.EX - news) , the United States and various Middle Eastern countries have also imposed their own sanctions.

But as long as it remains confined to this group, the sanctions will only have limited effect for the simple reason that the Assad regime almost certainly retains the bulk of its foreign assets in countries it regards as allies - notably Russia.

Recently the UN carried out a very successful asset freezing operation against Libya during the crisis in the country.

The UK alone managed to freeze £12bn worth, most of which has since been unlocked after the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

Unlike Syria, Libya pursued an active foreign investment policy, hence why the UK managed to locate such a sizeable amount.

The value of UK-based Syrian assets are perhaps more comparable to those of Egypt, which had around £85m frozen during the Arab Spring uprisings.

It is not clear whether any Syrian assets were located within UK high street banks, although mainstream institutions tend to be more risk averse than lesser known private banks, and many would be conscious of the potential reputation damage.