The homes and properties of Syrian refugees are being stolen by corrupt networks within the Syrian regime; a joint investigation by the Guardian and two Syrian NGOs has revealed.
According to the report, these networks include lawyers, notaries and real estate brokers which take advantage of the absence of the real owners and the long litigation process to forge the sale.
The investigation accused security employees or individuals with links to security entities as well as officers and military personnel, including members of the notorious Fourth Division forces led by Maher Al-Assad, the brother of President Bashar Al-Assad, of being part of the forgery and theft process.
The investigation quoted the head of the Bar Association branch in rural Damascus, Muhammad Osama Burhan, who last August spoke of the arrest of a number of lawyers who forged power of attorneys especially for people residing outside the country and sold their properties.
The former head of the Syrian Bar Association, Nizar Al-Sakif, has also said in previous remarks that the number of lawyers has decreased from 28,000 to 25,000 after the dismissal of many lawyers due to corruption, including forgery.
The investigation quoted testimonies of Syrians whose homes had been confiscated because they took asylum outside the country, and their inability to recover their homes through the judiciary.
One victim, 31-year-old Abdullah, had his home stolen by his relatives who had links to the Fourth Division. “I tried to appoint a lawyer to follow up on the case but they refused because I was wanted by the security forces.”
“Negotiating with the relative also failed and mediators ended up being threatened with being reported for collaborating with a government enemy,” he added.
Iman, a doctor whose name has been changed for her security, left Syria in 2017, renting her house to a civil servant. He has since claimed that she agreed to sell it to him, using a forged power of attorney approved by the Syrian consulate in Istanbul.
“I don’t have any real hope to get it back. The responsibility is with the corrupt judiciary and the consulate who made this happen, who issued the document without us even being present. It’s for money, by people who made use of their connections,” she said.
More than 13 million Syrians were forced to either flee the country or were internally displaced as a result of the war which began in 2011, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
NGOs the Day After and the Syrian Investigative Reporting for Accountability Journalism (SIRAJ) worked in partnership with the Guardian to uncover the corruption.