Syria’s Stock Exchange Orders Seizure of Assad Cousin’s Bank Assets

Published: 20 May 2020

Syriatel owes some US$77 million to the Syrian regime (Photo: BaselInisreny, CC SA-BY 3.0)Syriatel owes some US$261 million to the Syrian regime (Photo: BaselInisreny, CC SA-BY 3.0)

By Will Neal

Because of his failure to pay taxes, the Damascus Securities Exchange ordered on Wednesday the seizure of shares owned by Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of Syria’s president and one of the country’s richest tycoons, in 12 foreign banks with local branches.

The decision affected his shares in Lebanon’s Audi Bank, Byblos Bank and Fransabank, the Jordan’s-based Arab Bank and others, sources in Syria told OCCRP.

The move came two days after the government ordered the seizure of his and his family’s assets to guarantee the payment of some 134 billion Syrian pounds (US$261 million) owed to the state by his company Syriatel. In addition to the seizure, the regime has also reportedly banned Makhlouf from bidding on government contracts for five years.

Makhlouf, who also co-owns MTN Syria, decried the “unlawful” government decision in a video posted on his private social media account over the weekend, saying that “if those who live on earth do not hold them accountable, they will be judged by those who live in the sky.”

The maternal cousin of Bashar al-Assad is subject to US and EU sanctions for his alleged role in financing the Assad regime during the conflict in Syria, says he is facing significant pressure to resign as head of the company.

“They called me and asked me to resign. I refused, and said if I did I would let down the company and the country. I told them I did not do so during the war. I did not forsake mycountry, my president and my people, and I would not do so now,” he said in the video.

With 11 million subscribers and more than 6,500 shareholders, the Syrian government relies on Syriatel for a portion of its annual income. “Continuation on this road will only destroy Syriatel and all those who benefit from its operations,” Makhlouf added.

The spat between Mahklouf and the authorities has created divisions in the country’s ruling elite, and may well mark the first major rift within the Assad family since the current president’s father Hafez took power in 1971.