Last Updated: Sat Mar 17, 2012 19:31 pm (KSA) 16:31 pm (GMT)

Online shopping sprees could cost Syrian First Lady her freedom: report

Asmaa al-Assad’s spending habits and knack for European luxury goods were exposed by personal emails leaked to Al Arabiya on Thursday. (AFP)
Asmaa al-Assad’s spending habits and knack for European luxury goods were exposed by personal emails leaked to Al Arabiya on Thursday. (AFP)

Online shopping sprees could see the British born wife of the Syrian President held liable for up to two years in prison as she may have broken financial sanctions imposed on her husband by shopping.

London’s daily Telegraph quoted a senior lawyer as saying Asmaa al-Assad could face jail time, if she is found to have purchased items from British luxury department’s store Harrods along with boutique furniture makers and Parisian jewelers.

President Bashar al-Assad appears as number one on a list of 114 Syrians subjected to financial sanctions by the European Union. The sanctions freeze any assets in EU member states of Syrian officials held responsible for the “brutal repression.”

Mrs. Assad’s spending habits and knack for European luxury goods were exposed by personal emails leaked to Al Arabiya on Thursday.

If the Syrian First Lady has retained her British passport, she is at risk of violating the law by enquiring assets for the benefit – direct or indirect – of her husband. Only if she has officially renounced her British citizenship or if she can document that the purchased items were solely for her benefit will she be exempt from prosecution. Asmaa, who lived in Britain until the age of 25, is not known to have relinquished her British citizenship.

“Assuming that Asmaa al-Assad is a British citizen, she must comply with the EU asset freeze in place against her husband notwithstanding the fact that she lives in Syria,” Nigel Kushner, chief executive of Whale Rock Legal, a law firm which advises on sanctions compliance told the Daily Telegraph.

“That means she must not make available any funds or economic resources of any kind to - or for the benefit of - her husband, whether directly or indirectly. The definition of ‘economic resources’ is wide and would include the kind of luxury items that Mrs. Assad appears to have been ordering online.”

Asmaa has continued to stand by her husband throughout the uprising in Syria and international pressure on the Syrian government. According to one of the thousands of leaked emails sent in late December she wrote to her husband: “If we are strong together, we will overcome this together ... I love you...,” she wrote.

The leaked emails revealed that her purchases included a lamp by renowned Italian designer Georgio Armani from Harrods as well as precious jeweled necklaces from Paris.

On February 1, 2012 an email was sent to the Syrian First Lady confirming that a Paris-based luxury boutique was ready to ship her order of a chandelier and two candle sticks and other furnishings with a total value of more than $46,000.

Assuming that Asmaa still lives with her husband, the items would have been for her benefit too. The British Treasury, however, says this purchase alone is not enough to provide sufficient grounds for actions against her.

“We would only consider furniture to fall within the definition of ‘economic resources’ for the purposes of the sanctions if we had grounds to believe that it was going to be used to obtain funds, goods or services for a designated person,” the Treasury said in statement to the Telegraph.

The First Lady is not designated for any financial sanctions, and she could possibly use a loophole to say she was veering the president’s “basic needs.”
However, according to Kushner, “one somehow doubts” if the items ordered by Mrs. Assad could be considered to satisfy “a basic need.”

Other items purchased, the leaked emails reveal, include her favored Christian Louboutin shoes, a chocolate fondue set and bulletproof clothing.


(Written by Sara Ghasemilee)

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