Halifax man with business dealings in Syria now under EU sanctions

A Halifax man who was the first person charged with violating Canada's economic sanctions against Syria is now accused of violating the European Union's as well.

Nader Kalai added to list of people subject to travel bans and asset freeze

Nader Kalai is a Syrian national who has permanent resident status in Canada. He has lived in Halifax since 2009. (Facebook)

A Halifax man who was the first person charged with violating Canada's economic sanctions against Syria is now accused of violating the European Union's sanctions as well. 

Nader Kalai — a Syrian national with permanent residency in Canada — is known to be a close associate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his loyalists.

On Monday the European Union added Kalai to a list of individuals who are subject to travel bans and an asset freeze for their involvement with the Assad regime. EU citizens and businesses are also banned from making funds available to Kalai and others on the list.

The EU council describes Kalai as a "leading businessperson operating in Syria, with significant investments in the construction industry." 

The EU said he has a 50 per cent stake in Zubaidi and Qalei LLC, which it said is building a luxury tourist city known as Grand Town. It said the company secured a 45-year agreement with the Syrian regime after agreeing to pay 19 to 21 per cent of its revenue.

Kalai "benefits from and/or supports the regime through his business activities, in particular through this stake in the Grand Town development," the EU decision states.

It also described him as one of the majority shareholders of Castle Investment Holding and the chairman of Kalai Industries Management. 

Nader Kalai's family home is located on the historic Young Avenue in Halifax's south end. (Robert Short/CBC)

The 54-year-old was born in Damascus and runs a telecommunications consulting company, Telefocus Consultants Inc., out of his home in Halifax. He purchased the house on Young Avenue — which has an assessed value of $1.3 million — in 2009, and he is still listed as the owner.  

Kalai's wife and six children are all Canadian citizens. A 2018 CBC investigation found he was back in Damascus doing business there.

In Canada, he was charged with one count under the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA) tied to a payment of 15 million Syrian pounds — or about $140,000 — to a company called Syrialink on Nov. 27, 2013, according to court documents filed in June 2018. 

Kalai is still listed as the owner of a south-end Halifax home that has an assessed value of $1.3 million. (Robert Short/CBC)

He was not present during an August court appearance. His lawyer said Kalai was out of the country at the time, and CBC News has learned Kalai is currently in Damascus. 

Kalai's case is still before the courts. A preliminary hearing is scheduled to continue Feb. 8 in Halifax provincial court. 

Court documents, which were sworn by a Canada Border Services Agency investigator, outlined a nearly two-year investigation that led to the Canadian charge. They included a claim that Kalai was making false statements to Citizenship and Immigration Canada about his work history.

They also say that Canada Revenue Agency was investigating Kalai for tax evasion and failure to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income.

EU adds 11 men to sanction list

Kalai was among 11 businessmen added to the list of inviduals and companies subject to EU sanctions, which include restrictions on some investments. It total the list includes 270 people and 72 entities.

The EU first imposed sanctions on the Syrian regime in 2011. 

Canada has had formal sanctions in place against Syria, a number of high-ranking Syrian officials and a handful of Syrian businesses since 2011 as well — a response to the regime's use of violence against its own people, including apparent chemical weapon attacks.

With files from Sylvène Gilchrist