Network of Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism

Network of Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism

Alternative Syrian Passport: Non-recognition and corruption declared

191

Part Two: Investigative Report by: Kamal Oskan and Adam Hussein

After the formation of the National Coalition for the Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian opposition, the transitional government headed by Ahmed Taaima on 11/11/2013, was issued the alternative passport or the so-called coalition permit issued by the Syrian interim government. “The European Union considers the National Coalition of the Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian opposition to be the legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people,” the EU said in a statement.

The alternative passports issued by the coalition were granted to tens of thousands of Syrians outside the country, especially in Turkey, who were denied passports through Syrian consulates for political or security reasons. However, this passport was the cause of suffering for many in Turkey or the Kurdistan region Iraq, considering this passport to be fraudulent.

The passport issued by the Coalition is a valid passport for the official Syrian passport granted by the Syrian regime in its form, duration and renewal. It has signatures and official seals issued by immigration and passport branches in some cities and provinces controlled by the armed opposition and seized all records and seals therein. It is classified as false passports, which bears no reference to the party that has been issued by the Syrian interim government, since it has not received recognition and legal legitimacy from any country, even from the group of Friends of the Syrian People, founded in 2012.

War of passports and gaining legitimacy

Accompanied by the expansion of the armed conflict to wrest control of the centers of Syrian cities and towns, and the influx of refugees into Turkey, with another multi-faceted battle in which both the opposition and the Syrian regime are trying to extract legitimacy from each other. Passports were one of those squares.
This is reflected in the decision of the Syrian opposition coalition to issue an alternative passport after the formation of the provisional government in Turkey, especially after the Syrian regime’s harsh measures against its political opponents and dissidents. The Syrian regime has not only done so, but has taken stricter measures to further restrict anyone who opposes it, by publishing the passports of some of the dissidents and activists who had previously been systematically obtained from the Syrian consulates as stolen passports.
The regime sensed the seriousness of what happened when the Coalition issued passports in August 2014 and considered this step a derogation from its sovereignty. It took a series of legal measures detailed in the first part of the investigation and reduced the process of obtaining documents in a move to block Coalition and its passports.
A crime described in accordance with the law Regarding the legality of the issuance of the passport by the interim government, which was not recognized by any state, we asked the competent authorities of the law, which unanimously agreed on the illegality of these passports, describing what the government did with the crime.
“The Syrian interim government does not have the authority to issue travel documents. It is not an internationally recognized government, as the legal representative of the Syrian people (or even part of it),” said Ghazwan Qarnafel, former head of the Free Syrian Lawyers’ Union. The Syrian government, and occupies its position in regional and international organizations; thus, the government is like a political entity called itself a temporary government, and assigned himself to provide services (limited), within areas beyond the control of the system.
“The interim government’s taking of this step constitutes a complex crime. It is a crime of aggression against the state authority, as well as the crime of issuing forged documents from a party that does not have the right and authority to do so,” he said. 
Detention and the loss of money for a false passport

Those who were affected by this passport issued by the coalition were many, and the damage ranged between the loss of the amounts paid for this document without the benefit of the person, and those who were detained at the airports of Turkey and held months, and some of them deported to Syria because of the use of this passport.
Haytham spent two months suffering from detention, inside the police station at Istanbul Airport, and the detention center at the Aliens Branch in Ghazi Antep. His detention was not on the basis of a crime he committed or of guilt, but because he holds a passport issued by the Syrian interim government formed by the National Coalition of Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution in Turkey, which the coalition began to issue in August 2014.
On January 21, 2017, Haytham (32 years old), son of the Syrian city of Amouda, resident in Turkey 10 years ago, went from Istanbul airport to Beirut and is confident that everything is fine. At Beirut airport, he was arrested and returned to Istanbul again because the Lebanese government did not recognize the Syrian government’s passports and the absence of a stamp of entry into Turkey. The passport indicates that it was confiscated from inside Syria.At the Ataturk airport, Haitham began a new journey of a different sort, a journey of suffering from investigations and inspections from several security agencies at the airport prison until Haitham came out of prison and returned to work thanks to a lawsuit filed by the lawyer who was hired by the company in which he works.

There is no exact figures or official statistics on the number of persons arrested by the Turkish authorities because of the passports of the Coalition, and the measures taken against them ranged from destruction of passports and deportation.Syrian lawyer and legal adviser Majd al-Tabbaa, an employee of the Istanbul-based Belatin Legal Arab Foundation, which tracks files of Syrians arrested for forged passports and other cases, reveals that “the number of people facing forgery cases because of passports issued by the Syrian National Coalition exceeded 315 cases in Istanbul alone in 2017 “.
“At first, the punishment was the destruction of the passport by the Turkish staff. Later, a number of detainees faced the penalty of deportation. At present, the detainee faces the charge of forgery and is detained at the central prison in Maltiba in Istanbul. The public, and then refer the file to the Criminal Court. ”
As for the number of deportees, Majd explains that 109 people were deported in 2017, especially at Istanbul airports. The typist responsible for following up Ibrahim’s case from the city of Daraa details his arrest at Ataturk Airport before leaving for Beirut in mid-November 2017, on charges of his forged passport. Ibrahim decided to travel to Beirut to meet with his family who had not seen them since for more than three years, when he left Syria to escape military service.
The typist said: “A decision was made to deport him and he remained in detention at the airport. Fortunately, he wrote a legal agency to the lawyer for another case. We benefited from it and we appealed the deportation order, which would deprive him of 5 years of entry into Turkey.  “Most of them were Syrians, and every 15 days some 20 people were deported to Syria, and I was one of them, and they brought me back from the middle of the road at the request of the court,” says Haitham.

Issuing passports without obtaining acknowledgement

The Syrian opposition coalition, interim Prime Minister Ahmed Taaima and Finance Minister Ibrahim Miro and member of the coalition Mohammad Nazir al-Hakim, who was later elected Secretary-General of the National Coalition of Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution, were charged with issuing the alternative passport for the interim government were  the godfather of this project, on 18/3/2014 (Document No. 1).

According to the documents and correspondence (Document No. 2), which we were able to obtain between the Prime Minister, Mohammad Nazir al-Hakim and Ibrahim Miro, the finance minister, it was found that the project will be financed in part by the support provided by Qatar on 22/1/2014 of 50 million euros, The other part was deducted from the emergency reserve and civil defense salaries (document No. 3).

The project was approved through the establishment of a company managed by Mohammad Nazir al-Hakim under the name: Entexıt Syr Dış Ticaret Limited Şirketi in the Turkish city of Istanbul on 18-06-2014 with a capital of 100 thousand Turkish liras, equivalent to 45 thousand dollars and with an official authorization signed by the Prime Minister.

Alternative passport file

The Syrian interim government signed a contract with the Slovenian company dd CETIS, one of the leading European companies in the field of print-related products and services, to print one million copies of the alternative passport worth two million and 400,000 euros, and Customs to take the total amount of approximately $ 3 million, on 15/6/2014, to be delivered “goods” and shipped to Gaziantep airport in Turkey in five batches, 200 thousand passports every 8 weeks, according to the annex of the contract between the parties.
And $ 997 thousand was transferred in the first batch of the agreed amount to the Slovenian company through a bank transfer on 17/7/2014 according to the attached receipt.

This means that the Turkish government was aware of the details of the deal between the interim government and the Slovenian company, as the remittances were made through Turkish banks, and the shipment of passports was carried out through Gaziantep Airport.The first batch of passports was handed over two months after the signing of the contract on 15/8/2014, and the Syrian interim government issued it to the citizens. 33,000 passports were distributed, according to Nazir al-Hakim in a meeting with an organization called “Civilians for Justice and Peace “in mid-May 2017 in Istanbul.

Coalition clears and Syrian government file a complaint with INTERPOL

There has been a change in the position of the Turkish government, which previously overlooked the existence of illegal documents at the Syrians, at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, including the passports issued by the coalition. The coalition has closed its office, which was allocated to deal with passport applicants in Istanbul, Reihaniyah and Gaziantep, at the end of 2015. The passport was only obtained through agents deployed in the provinces of Turkey and neighboring countries.
Some experts believe that the change in the Turkish government’s position came at the request of the European Union to stop the flow of Syrian refugees to Europe, which peaked in 2015 and prompted the EU to conclude a refugee agreement with Turkey (March 2016)  to give Turkey 6 Billion dollars to keep Syrian refugees.Earlier, European countries asked for tougher checks at the external borders of the Union to ensure the validity of Syrian passports. After the Paris bombings on November 13, 2015 near Stade de France in Saint-Denis, forged Syrian passports were found near suicide bombers who blew themselves up.
In a letter to the French Minister of the Interior, Bernard Kaznov, published by Agence France-Presse, dated 28 December 2015, the EU is requested in Brussels to improve the procedures of the external borders of the Union. He also asked Brussels to “draw attention” to Turkey if Syrian passports are traded.

Circulation of numbers

The Syrian regime circulated Syrian passport numbers to INTERPOL and announced that they were stolen and returned mostly to opponents or activists, with the aim of prosecuting their holders. This resulted in more scrutiny of the Turkish airports, Cyprus and Lebanon on Syrian passports, especially after several countries from Turkey requested that, and therefore, stop dealing in Turkey with the possibility of coalition in government departments and banks, and other procedures that require a passport. The Turkish authorities to arrest all those who carry these nuts issued by the coalition.
What happened with Rudy at Cyprus airport may be a model for what happens with everyone who holds a passport from the Syrian opposition coalition, except for some whose stories have not been discovered and managed to travel with these passports.
Roody (28 years of Aleppo), who lives in the city of Gaziantep, was awarded the passport of the coalition from the city of Gaziantep on 16/10/2015 valid for two years, and wanted to obtain tourist accommodation instead of the temporary protection card, which was known as  In Turkey; however, obtaining a residence permit requires a valid passport and is stamped with a formal entry visa to Turkey from a terminal or airport.Roody decided to travel to Cyprus in mid-2016 with a group of friends to have their passports stamped legally, and they booked the hotel for three days and a return trip flight. At Cyprus airport they were not allowed to enter Cyprus but were taken to the airport prison to look into his passport. “Despite our protest, I and some of my friends were arrested for more than 12 hours and then returned to Turkey without stamping our passport,” Roody said.
The coalition tried to evade the project, and its members began to publish conflicting statements in the media and social media about the non-issuance of alternative passport coalition, while some said it was issued with the consent of a small group without any consultation from the legal committee, according to Haitham al-Maleh, In the coalition, on his page in “Facebook”, on 18 January 2019. The member of the Kurdish National Council in the political body of the coalition Fuad Aliko to the investigation team that “the subject of passports was not discussed with the Kurdish National Council within the coalition, Issued The coalition, possibly with a member of the National Assembly in person, and the Council has no information about it. ”
This conflict is reflected in the tweet of Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the political body and head of the information department of the Syrian National Coalition on 12 May 2017, on the non-criminalization of the Turkish judiciary holders of Syrian opposition passports.
“The opposition does not have passports, but there are networks of forgery, and the Syrian who holds the forged passport is not criminalized by the judiciary at all. The prohibition on entry or departure is there,” the former coalition leader Khaled Khoja said in a tweet the next day.
We tried to contact Ramadan to inquire about the alternative passport issued by the coalition and the position of the Turkish authorities, but he declined to respond to our questions.”I can say that the amounts that the members of the interim government are expected to have accepted can be considered part of the corruption that has been committed against the Syrian people,” said Dr. Imad al-Din al-Musbah, an opposition Syrian academic. Of course, we do not have the evidence that will enable us to adopt the idea of ​​corruption. “However, by returning to Nazir al-Hakim company, the document in our possession proves its ownership of the Syrian interim government (Document No. 5).
The head of the Immigration and Passport Department in Damascus, Colonel Fawaz al-Ahmad, confirmed in a statement to the Russian news agency “Sputnik” on 24/7/2017 that Syria had filed a formal complaint with the United Nations and INTERPOL in this regard and had previously submitted stolen passport numbers to INTERPOL to pursue the holders These passports were circulated in numbers.

Where did the money go?

According to the contract signed between the government represented by the Ministry of Finance, the company Mohammed Nazir al-Hakim and the Slovenian company dd CETIS, the amounts were transferred in two installments, the first million dollars in cash, entered into the account of Mohammad Nazir al-Hakim in the bank of Turkiye finans and was transferred to the Slovenian company on 17 / 7/2014 according to emails and invoices circulated between Muhammad Nazir Al Hakim, Ibrahim Miro and Emad Barakat, Director General of Central Accounts (Document 6), for which we were able to obtain copies.
Miro refused to sign the second batch after the coalition decision to withdraw confidence from the interim government headed by Ahmed Taaima, by 66 votes during the General Assembly meeting on 20 and 21 July 2014 and the task of the government to conduct business until the completion of the formation of a new government. Miro refused, according to people from within the government, until officially assigned to the post of Minister of Finance within the new composition, and in fact, assigned Taaima Miro running the Ministry of Finance and Economy in Resolution 99 on 2/12/2014. (Document No. 7)
The entire amount of the Slovenian company was paid in the amount of € 2,400,000. A portion of the emergency reserve was deducted according to one of the documents signed by Minister Miro and the other part was paid from the grant from Qatar.
To confirm this, we tried to contact the Slovenian company (dd CETIS) to find out the merits of the subject and to inquire about whether the company is entitled to print this type of security documents to an unrecognized party internationally, and to make sure that the company knows that what was printed in the Syrian passports deal is Passports are held at airports, although officials in the printing company have no information about the completion of the project in full; a million passports. Has the company received its financial dues in accordance with the contract between them and the Syrian opposition coalition? Despite our continuous attempt to reach out to the CEO Roman Znidarič, who is in charge of the company’s security printing, he did not answer us.
If the alternative passports project is planned and implemented, as part of the Syrian chaos and leaving the questions open, where did the money collected from the sale of 33,000 passports go, according to Nazir al-Hakim, and the value of the passport was issued by the government of Tohma $ 200 for transactions Slow and $ 400 for Express and $ 100 for a refurbishing suit?
According to economist Ahmed Yousef, who planned the passport project, conducted accurate calculations with some of those who have a mentality, proved that the project of great economic feasibility! “The cost of one copy of the alternative passport does not exceed three US dollars and is sold at an average price of US $ 300 per copy,” Yousuf said. “This step, through a private company established for this purpose, is only in the search for illegal sources of income. This means that it has generated revenues of over $ 10 million. ”

This investigation was carried out by the Iraqi  Network for Investigative Journalism (NIRIJ) and published in collaboration with Al-Menasa. Translated into English by Dr. Pshtiwan Faraj