Syria’s Public Assets Collection Law allows the General Commission for Taxes and Fees, part of the Ministry of Finance, to transfer private real estate to state ownership if the original owners fail to pay the necessary taxes and fees. The law was promulgated by Legislative Decree No. 341 of 1956 and its amendments.
Decree No. 341 sets the general terms for the categories of taxes that authorise the state’s seizure of taxpayers’ properties. It includes various types of taxes and direct and indirect fees, as well as additions and fines to those fees. In other words, the payments listed in the decree include all taxes and fees payable to state administrations and institutions under the applicable laws and regulations. Generally, the Public Assets Collection Law applies to income taxes, real estate sales tax, and others.
Decree No. 341 also outlines the methods for paying taxes and fees and the procedures against those who fail to pay. The process begins with a warning, then property seizure, and, finally, the sale of the seized property. The taxpayer must cover all the costs associated with the sale procedure.
Under Decree No. 341 and its amendments, the judicial authorities do not have the right to halt the implementation of these procedures. Meanwhile, the right to carry out these procedures is granted only to Syria’s financial authorities, which violates the principle of judicial independence. The seizure begins with a warning sent by the relevant Financial Department to taxpayers who have failed to pay their taxes and fees. Then, there is another warning. After ten days, the Financial Department director issues a decision to seize the taxpayer’s assets.
There are two cases in which Decree No. 341 grants financial authorities the right to make asset seizures without issuing a warning to the owners. First, if the failed taxpayer no longer lives in Syria permanently, and second, if there are legitimate reasons to expect that the failed taxpayer may be hiding their assets. These two provisions give financial departments far-reaching powers to seize assets belonging to Syrians abroad on the pretext that they are no longer permanently based in the country.
The government may also enforce a property seizure against a failed taxpayer’s movable and immovable assets and their proceeds, whether those assets are in the taxpayer’s possession or a third party. Such individuals may be tenants of the property. In these cases, seizure leads to the tenants losing their rights to benefit from the property without a valid reason.
Afterwards, the Minister of Finance issues a regulatory decision that includes the sale of the seized property. When a sale cannot be processed, the General Commission for Taxes and Fees may amend the property’s records within the Land Registry to be listed under the state’s name.
During the issuance of the Minister of Finance’s decision to register the property under the state’s name, the owner may pay a sum equal to the financial dues and any expenses. Payment of this sum then cancels the registration of the property under the state’s name, and the original owner may then retain their property.
But in cases where the owner fails to make the payment and after ownership of the property is formally transferred to the state, the state must wait at least three years until it can sell it. During these three years, the original owner or the inheritor of the property may request that it be recovered to them, provided that they pay all financial dues, expenses, fees, and fines incurred during the time the property was registered in the state’s name.