U.K., U.S. Sanction Individuals Involved in Syria’s Captagon Trade

The U.K. and U.S. announced on Tuesday new sanctions against individuals involved in Syria’s illicit captagon trade from which the Assad regime is profiting.

Captagon Pills AssadSeized Captagon pills. (Photo: U.K. Government, License)Taher al-Kayali, one of the 11 individuals designated by the U.K., was the subject of an OCCRP investigation published in June 2021. It uncovered how Kayali, owner of a cargo ship whose capture in 2018 marked Greece’s largest-ever seizure of captagon, has ties to a cousin of Bashar Al-Assad and criminal convictions in Italy for smuggling stolen cars and luxury yachts.

Al-Kayali did not immediately respond to an OCCRP request for comment on his designation. 

In a coordinated press release, the U.S. Treasury announced it was sanctioning six individuals and two entities for facilitating the trade. Among them are relatives of the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, a number of Hezbollah associates, an individual known as the “king of captagon”, and a militia leader.

Captagon is a highly addictive drug that became known as the ‘drug of Jihad’ for its widespread use amongst ISIS militants in Syria during the civil war.

Today, the Assad family appears to be playing a large role in the multi-billion dollar trade. Bashar Al-Assad’s own brother, Maher, allegedly controls one of the main ports being used to transport the shipments of captagon.

The U.K. press release, which estimates that the trade is worth up to $57 billion to the Assad regime, adds that Maher “commands the unit of the Syrian Army facilitating the distribution and production of the drug.”

“The Assad regime is using the profits from the captagon trade to continue their campaign of terror on the Syrian people. The U.K. and U.S. will continue to hold the regime to account for brutally repressing the Syrian people and fuelling instability across the Middle East,” the U.K.’s Minister of State for the Middle East, said.