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Asma al-Assad faces prison term if online shopping spree is proved

Asma al-Assad's purported online shopping sprees may have broken financial sanctions imposed on her husband, Syria's president.

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Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma, walk in Paris during an official visit to France in 2010. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

Asma al-Assad's purported online shopping sprees may have broken financial sanctions imposed on her husband, Syria's president, according to London's Daily Telegraph.

The paper cited a senior lawyer as saying the British-born wife of Syria's president could be liable for a two-year prison sentence if she is found to have bought goods from London's Harrods, along with boutique furniture-makers and Parisian jewelers.

Bashar al-Assad is number one on a list of 114 Syrians subjected to European Union financial sanctions which freeze any assets owned by the individuals in EU member states.

Asma al-Assad's purported shopping habits were exposed by the Guardian newspaper this week.

The paper wrote that since the beginning of the Assad regime's crackdown -- during which over 7,500 people have died in Syria, the UN estimates -- Asma has spent thousands of dollars on luxury goods, including her favored Christian Louboutin shoes and accessories, Parisian jewelry, handmade furniture from boutiques in London's upscale Chelsea district.

The Guardian, citing a cache of emails it says are written by the Syrian first couple, claimed that: "While the country was rocked by Assad's crackdown on dissent, his inner circle was concerned about the possibility of getting hold of a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, or a new chocolate fondue set."

Bashar al-Assad, reportedly using the pseudonym Sam, also sent his wife the lyrics of a country and western song by the US singer Blake Shelton, and the audio file downloaded from iTunes.

(GlobalPost reports: Assad fiddles with iTunes as Syria burns)

The first verse reads: "I've been a walking heartache / I've made a mess of me / The person that I've been lately / Ain't who I wanna be."

The Telegraph, meantime, cites Nigel Kushner, chief executive of Whale Rock Legal, a law firm which advises on sanctions compliance, as saying that if Asma al-Assad -- who lived in London until age 25 -- had retained her British citizenship, any purchases of asset for the benefit - whether direct or indirect - of her husband would be in violation of EU sanctions.

Only if she has formally renounced her British citizenship -- which she is not known to have done -- or if she could demonstrate that the items were exclusively for her benefit, would she be exempt from prosecution, Kushner reportedly said.

Asma al-Assad was a year ago profiled by Vogue magazine in an article that praised Syria's first family for running their home on "democratic principles" and called Asma "glamorous, young, and very chic."

Vogue has since removed the article from its website, but a complete copy can be found here.

(More from GlobalPost: Old problems plague new India)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/120317/asma-al-assad-syria-bashar-online-shopping-luxury-goods-eu-sanctions-vogue