Swiss broaden sanctions against Syria

GENEVA Tue Aug 14, 2012 1:07pm EDT

GENEVA (Reuters) - Switzerland has banned a further three Syrian firms, including the national airline, from doing business in the country and imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 25 more Syrians, mainly military officials.

The move aligns neutral Switzerland with one by the European Union (EU) announced in late July, State Secretariat for Economics (SECO) spokeswoman Antje Baertschi told Reuters from Berne on Tuesday.

Switzerland has worked hard in recent years to improve its image as a haven for ill-gotten gains, seizing the assets of numerous deposed dictators and agreeing in 2009 to soften strict bank secrecy to help other countries catch tax cheats.

Syrian companies subject to Swiss asset freezes now include Syrian Arab Airlines, the Aleppo-based Cotton Marketing Organisation and Drex Technologies, SECO said in a statement.

The decision will stop the flag carrier from landing at Swiss airports because Swiss financial and airport services would not be provided, Baertschi said.

Drex Technologies is owned by Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf, already subject to Swiss sanctions due to his "financial support to the Syrian regime", SECO said.

Makhlouf, a cousin to President Bashar al-Assad, is on SECO's list issued in June of 128 Syrians banned from travel and subject to freezes on any accounts or property in Switzerland. Assad and his younger brother Maher, who commands the Republican Guard, top the list.

Makhlouf has run a vast business empire - from telecoms to banks to real estate and taxis - since Assad took the reins of power on the death of his father in 2000.

In June, Switzerland said that it had frozen another 20 million Swiss francs ($20.52 million) of funds belonging to top Syrian officials, bringing the total at the time to 70 million francs.

Switzerland launched sanctions on Syria last year to try to pressure the Damascus government to end its military crackdown on opponents, saying in December it had frozen 50 million francs of assets belonging to Bashar al-Assad and other officials.

($1 = 0.9747 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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