The Obama administration unveiled punitive measures on Wednesday against two Syrian financial institutions for their alleged ties to WMD proliferation in Syria and North Korea (see GSN, Aug. 8).
The moves bar the government-run Commercial Bank of Syria and a subsidiary, the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, from engaging in transactions with U.S. individuals and from accessing any assets the firms might possess under U.S. control.
“By exposing Syria’s largest commercial bank as an agent for designated Syrian and North Korean proliferators ... we are taking aim at the financial infrastructure that is helping provide support to [Syrian President Bashar Assad] and his regime’s illicit activities,” Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen said in a statement.
The Commercial Bank of Syria has carried out transactions on behalf of the Scientific Studies and Research Center in Syria and the Tanchon Commercial Bank in North Korea, both of which the United States blacklisted more than six years ago for supporting WMD proliferation activities by their respective states.
The Scientific Studies and Research Center "controls Syria’s missile production facilities and oversees Syria’s facilities to develop unconventional weapons and their delivery systems," the Treasury Department press release states.
"The Commercial Bank of Syria has continued to provide financial services to the SSRC and associated companies following the SSRC’s designation, including the maintenance of bank accounts and financing for purchases that permit the SSRC and associated companies to advance Syria’s WMD programs," the department said. "For example, in 2010, SSRC arranged financing through the Commercial Bank of Syria for missile-related purchases."
The Syrian bank "also holds an account for Tanchon, the primary financial agent for the Korea Mining Development Corp., North Korea’s premier arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons," the department said, noting it had previously targeted the North Korean mining entity.
The Syrian institution has also done business with blacklisted Iranian entities such as Bank Melli, Bank Saderat and the Export Development Bank of Iran, the department said (see GSN, Oct. 21, 2010).
North Korea is known to operate nuclear-weapon and ballistic missile programs; it is believed to hold a significant stockpile of chemical warfare materials and to have a continuing biological weapons program. Syria is also suspecting of possessing a sizable chemical arsenal; it has denied accusations that a facility destroyed in a 2007 Israeli airstrike housed an unfinished nuclear reactor that could have produced weapon-usable plutonium (U.S. Treasury Department release, Aug. 10).