DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates' central bank has asked lenders and financial institutions in the Gulf Arab state to start an investigation into any funds or investments by top Syrian officials, a local newspaper reported Friday.
The move, aimed at raising pressure on Syrian President Assad to stop a military crackdown on a popular uprising, was in keeping with sanctions imposed on Damascus by the Arab League, European Union and United States, according to the Khaleej Times, citing a central bank circular issued on Thursday.
The central bank gave financial organizations and banks three days to submit details of any assets or transactions made by 139 Syrian officials including Assad, his wife Asma and other family members, the daily said.
The circular named 59 Syrian banks, energy companies and other military and media agencies as well as Iranian individuals and entities including Iran Revolutionary Guards' Al-Quds Force, which focuses on military operations outside the Islamic Republic, and the force's commander Qasem Soleimani.
The central bank called for an immediate "search for any accounts, deposits or investments" owned by the persons and institutions in question and for the central bank to be informed of "any credit facilities, safe deposit boxes or financial transfers", according to the Khaleej Times.
Officials at the central bank were not immediately available for comment Friday, the start of the weekend in the UAE, a U.S. ally and regional business and trade hub.
Dubai, the commercial hub of the UAE, has been regarded as a regional safe haven for wealth. Since the outbreak of Arab Spring revolts against repressive rulers began 18 months ago, funds from across the Middle East have been shifted to Dubai banks and tucked away in areas such as real estate.
Iran, which backs Assad's government, is under international sanctions as well due to its controversial nuclear programme.
In May, the EU froze the assets or imposed travel bans on more than 120 senior Syrian officials in an effort to isolate Assad's government and press it to carry out a ceasefire and political transition plan drawn up by a U.N.-Arab League envoy.
The United States has frozen Syrian assets and banned U.S. businesses from dealings with Syria, adding to broader U.S. measures against Syria which had been in place since 2004.
Arab League states last November also decided on the economic sanctions against Syria, the toughest ever on a member state. They included a suspension of dealings with the Syrian central bank and its state-owned Commercial Bank, and of trade agreements and bank transactions.
Iraq and Lebanon, neighbours of Syria which have sensitive sectarian, strategic and trade relationships with Damascus, have declined to join the League's sanctions campaign.
Jordan, another neighbour, has been reluctant to carry out the sanctions out of concern for damage to its economy.