Three Belgian companies in court over chemical exports to Syria

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian court has set a trial date for three Belgian companies accused of exporting chemicals to Syria, including isopropanol, a common substance that can also be used in the production of sarin nerve gas, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

The case, which will commence in Antwerp on May 15, centers on the export of several chemical substances between 2014 and 2016 to Lebanon and Syria by Belgian chemical group AAE Chemie and two handling agents, Danmar Logistics and Anex Customs.

“The companies had no export license for these products,” a spokesman for the court said.

“Both my companies and AAE Chemie have always acted in good faith. We have always fully complied with the checks of customs officers at the port of Antwerp,” a spokesman for Danmar Logistics said. Under Belgian law a defendant is not required to enter a plea.

Western countries say the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons, including sarin, against its own population, most recently on the town of Douma on April 7. The Syrian government denies this.

Widely used as an industrial solvent and also in some medical products, isopropanol, or rubbing alcohol, is one of two key ingredients for sarin. Since 2013 companies need a license to export chemicals to Syria.

Belgium’s finance ministry, which oversees customs, said it was awaiting the court’s decision and could not give further details.

Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek, editing by Louise Heavens