Syrian billionaire Rami Makhlouf and his cousin Bashar al-Assad
Bashar al-Assad’s tycoon cousin Rami Makhlouf has hit back again at a crackdown on him and his assets by Syria’s regime.
In a third Facebook video, posted on Sunday, Makhlouf said officials have told him to step down as head of Syriatel, the country’s largest telecommunications company.
Syriatel was the heart of Makhlouf’s empire, supported by the Assad family’s plutocracy, in which he was worth an estimated $5 billion at one point. He also has extensive holding in real estate, construction, and the oil trade.
Makhlouf said he would not resign, despite his claims that his personnel have been arrested, the prospect of revocation of his license, and demands for $185 million in payments: “Whomever thinks I will resign under these conditions, doesn’t know me.”
He said his board members, three of whom resigned last week, have now been threatened with detention: “They said you have until Sunday to either comply or the company will be taken and its assets seized.”
Makhlouf responds to a claim by Syrian authorities that Syriatel is unwilling to pay its debt and publishes a letter from Syriatel indicating the company is willing to pay pic.twitter.com/GcJnswOnId
— Michael A. Horowitz (@michaelh992) May 18, 2020
Makhlouf, sanctioned by the US and the European Union for his support of the regime’s corruption and criminal activity, portrayed himself as a victim and others as profiteers in Syria’s nine-year conflict.
In his first two videos, circulated two weeks ago, he appealed to his cousin:
You let others treat us in this way? We? The ones who gave up all that’s dear and precious [for you]?… Mr. President, this is not okay. Please, you give your instructions to those people, who are violating the law and the constitution of which you are the sponsor?
The split in the regime comes amid further crumbling of the Syrian economy, which has lost 75% of its GDP since the uprising began in March 2011.
Despite a recapture of parts of the country, enabled by Russia and Iran, the regime has carried out little reconstruction. Prices have risen sharply, and there are widespread shortages of electricity, cooking gas, and vital goods.
The Syrian pound, at 47:1 v. the US dollar in March 2011, fell to 1,750:1 on Sunday.
State news agency SANA did not report on Makhlouf’s video. The blog Al Masdar, an outlet for regime officials, portrayed Makhlouf’s criticism as “a new video about negotiations with Syria gov’t“.