The forgery of real estate title deeds by specialised criminal networks is widespread in most areas under Syrian regime control.
These networks are exploiting the fact that many property owners are currently outside Syria and cannot return to legally claim or protect their properties. As a result, forgers transfer ownership of these properties through fraudulent documents or by colluding with judges and employees of both the courts and the General Directorate of Cadastral Affairs, which runs Syria’s official real estate registry.
Syrian law takes a firm stance against forgery of real estate ownership documents. Article 14 of the Land Registry Law of 1926 states that a registry of ownership is illegal if it is done “unjustly,” and whoever is harmed by this can claim that the registration is illegal. Article 15 stresses that a person whose rights have been violated due to a change in the real estate records without legitimate reason is entitled to cancel the change. The owner of a certain property derives their ownership right from the land registry. Invalid or forged documents do not grant someone the right of ownership.
Jurisprudence of the Court of Cassation affirms that forgery of ownership deeds is a form of registration “without right” or without legitimate reason. Decision No. 41/58 of 1972, released by the court’s general assembly, explains that registration without right may include both (1) registration made without the presence of the concerned person, (2) registration based on fraud or deception, or (3) a forged statement or power of attorney. In such cases, the registration is not based on the official land registry, but rather on fraud. Records made from these invalid ownership deeds must be cancelled.
A more recent judgement issued by the court’s general assembly, Decision No. 111 of 2016, considered that the phrase “without right,” which appears in Article 14 of the Land Registry Law, includes any of the aforementioned reasons that invalidate ownership registration. In such cases, the registration is cancelled and undergoes a “registration annulment” case before the Civil Court of First Instance where the property is located.
The matter does not stop there. Forgery of judicial rulings, notary power of attorney, or official real estate documents while registering ownership in the land registry is considered a form of tampering with official documentation. This offence, a felony, is punishable by at least five years of hard labour under Articles 446 and 447 of the Penal Code.
In such cases of forgery, the Criminal Court also invalidates the registration. Anyone who lost their ownership due to forged documentation may file a case before the Criminal Court claiming that forgery had occurred. They may also file a case before the civil judiciary to cancel the registration.