The Parliament approved a bill on November 30 granting the Presidency of the Council of Ministers the authority to manage movable and immovable assets confiscated under final judicial rulings. The bill will now be sent to the President for ratification, issuance, and subsequent publication in the Official Gazette.
The bill stipulates that confiscating assets and properties must be based on a final, unappealable ruling. That is, if the judgement were appealable, the transfer of ownership from the defendant to the state cannot be executed.
The law has not yet been published. Official media only published some articles about it. According to the available information, the bill could target political opponents accused of “terrorism” in special courts. The assets of these accused are provisionally seized then confiscated under judgments issued by the Antiterrorism Court, established under Law No. 22 of 2012. This court has the authority to issue judgments, either in the presence or absence of the defendant, whereby it confiscates all movable and immovable properties of the defendant. The legal norms of litigation do not bind the Antiterrorism Court, and its judgments lack the necessary guarantees for fair trials.
This new law also could apply to verdicts issued by criminal courts that order the confiscation of movable and immovable assets, regardless of the nature of the case. This appears in harmony with the official statements that indicated that those convicted of corruption cases may be included in this law.
This new bill differentiates between properties located within and outside zoning plans in managing real estate assets. Within zoning plans, the responsibility of managing these properties lies with the Ministry of Finance, which also has the authority to manage movable assets, shares, or stakes in a company. The Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform will manage properties outside of zoning plans.
The law stipulates that the Prime Minister is empowered to issue a decision, upon the request of the relevant minister, to transfer the ownership of confiscated movable and immovable assets to public entities. If the beneficiary public entity is administrative, i.e., a public facility based on public service, such as a municipality or a government department, no fees, taxes, or other compensation are owed. If the beneficiary public entity is of an economic nature, i.e., a public sector company engaged in commercial, agricultural, industrial or financial activities, then a financial compensation has to be paid to the public treasury.
The Prime Minister can allocate a portion of seized properties to any public entity upon the request of the relevant minister.
The new law gives the Council of Ministers the authority to issue a special system or executive instructions based on the Ministers of Finance and Agriculture proposal. This will include defining the mechanism for managing, investing, transferring ownership and allocating these movable and immovable assets transferred to the state.
This new law applies retroactively, meaning it applies even if the confiscation occurred under judgments issued before the enactment of this law. The final article of the law states that “without prejudice to the rights accrued to others under the effective laws and without affecting them, the provisions of this law shall apply to movable and immovable assets confiscated under a final judicial ruling, whether the ruling was issued before or after the enactment of this law.” This contradicts a well-known principle in criminal law, which prohibits the retrospective application of criminal and penal provisions and requires immediate application to subsequent instances only.
Article 10, paragraph 1 of the Syrian Penal Code states: “Any new law that amends the method of executing a punishment in a way that changes its nature shall not apply to acts committed before its enforcement unless it is more favourable to the defendant or the convict.” This means that the retrospective effect of the new law in procedural matters is only permissible if it benefits the convict. However, the new law stipulates its retrospective application despite being against the interests of the convict.