Nader Kalai is the first person to face trial over allegedly breaching Canada’s Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA). Canada established sanctions against Syria in 2011 after the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, violently cracked down on peaceful protesters.
Kalai, a Syrian national with permanent resident status in Canada, was supposed to have a trial this month, but that hearing has been delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kalai was not present on Thursday as he is in Syria, which currently has no international flights out of the country.
Instead, he was represented by Ron Pizzo and Joel Pink, who appeared in Halifax Supreme Court by phone on Thursday.
Justice Patrick Duncan scheduled the judge-alone trial for three days starting on Aug. 18, which will be presided over by Justice John Bodurtha.
Much of the trial will be done by videoconference, as many of the witnesses that will be called live overseas.
Kalai is accused of violating the measures imposed on Syria by making a payment of 15 million Syrian pounds — the equivalent of approximately C$140,000 — to a company called Syrialink on Nov. 27, 2013.
Michael Nesbitt, an assistant professor of law at the University of Calgary, told Global News last year that Kalai’s trial will be unique, with only one person having been prosecuted under SEMA since it was introduced in 1992.
According to court documents reviewed by Global News, a statement sworn by a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) investigator outlined a two-year-long investigation into Kalai that began after an intelligence officer received anecdotal information that Kalai was in business with individuals associated with the Syrian regime.
CBSA claimed that Kalai had made false statements to Citizenship and Immigration Canada about his work history and was improperly granted a Canadian permanent resident card.
The investigation ultimately culminated with investigators executing warrants in December 2016 to search Kalai’s home on Young Avenue as well as his office and to seize electronic devices.
CBSA laid the charges of violating sanctions against Kalai in June 2018.
Affidavits filed in May 2018 note that the Canada Revenue Agency is conducting its own investigation of Kalai for tax evasion and failure to report income.
Kalai has also been placed under sanctions by the European Union.
Last January, the European Union (EU) accused Kalai of violating its economic sanctions on Syria.
As a result, he was also added to a list of individuals and companies that have had their assets frozen and a travel ban applied due to their dealings with the Assad regime.
The EU describes Kalai as being a “leading businessperson operating in Syria with significant investments in the construction industry.”
If convicted, Kalai could face up to five years in prison.