SYRIA / BELGIUM (OBSERVATORY) – Three Belgian companies are on trial for export of chemicals that can be used to produce nerve gas, sarin, to Syria.
The companies exported 96 tons of isopropanol to Syria between 2014 and 2016, according to the court.
The companies say they were not aware that the 2013 sanctions made the export permit mandatory, and claimed that customs officials were aware of export shipments.
Isopropanol can be used in the manufacture of legitimate products such as paint remover.
But it is also used as raw material in the sarin gas industry, which the United Nations and Western countries accuse Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using against his own people.
The Belgian news website Kannak was the first to publish a report on the lawsuit filed against the three Belgian companies, after conducting investigations in cooperation with the Sirian Arcive rights group.
The Belgian Finance Ministry told Agence France-Presse that the companies face charges of forging customs permits, and the court will hear the case on May 15.
The companies say they were not aware of the new requirements for permits and worked in good faith when dealing with paint and paint companies, which they have been dealing with for more than a decade.
“Each kilo and each container is subject to inspection and customs control,” said Herman Gunn Landgem, of Dunmar, the BBC’s logistics firm.
“We gave them all the documents, searched every container and released them,” he said.
“We have opened them up to customs officials, they know where we will sell them, and they have opened them for years and years, and we exported them to the Middle East for years,” he said.
“Everything we export to Syria is not with blacklisted clients, there is no such client.”
Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013, disclosing its sarin gas stockpile for destruction.
A UN report on the use of sarin gas, which killed dozens of people in the disputed area of Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, Western countries said they suspect it was also used in the deadly attack on the city of Duma this month.