In its latest crackdown on Bashar al-Assad’s maternal cousin Rami Makhlouf, Syria’s regime has imposed a travel ban.
The Justice Ministry announced the restriction on the billionaire tycoon, as authorities squeeze his businesses, notably the country’s primary telecommunications firms SyriaTel.
The regime is demanding $185 million from the company, built up by Makhlouf as part of Assad’s inner circle. A court order, dated May 20, “temporarily banned the defendant from travelling abroad” until the case, over SyriaTel’s operating licence, is resolved or the money is paid. It said the ban was requested by the Telecoms Minister and the General manager of the Telecoms Authority.
Pointing to the effect of the pressure on Makhlouf, said at one point to be worth more than $5 billion, the court found that “it is likely the defendant is indebted” and thus could flee Syria.
Makhlouf’s companies are also involved in electricity, oil, and real estates. In a series of Facebook videos since May 1, he has accused security services of harassing and detaining his personnel, and notifying him that he will be “banned from working with the state for five years”.
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]?”
The tycoon claimed on Sunday that officials had demanded his resignation, and that if he did not comply, his companies’ assets will be seized.
The regime, under economic pressure amid Syria’s nine-year conflict, launched its steps against Makhlouf last summer by seizing the al-Bustan charity.
The charity is reportedly involving in funding militias fighting for the regime. Claims have circulated that the seizure was linked to a power struggle between Makhlouf and Bashar al-Assad’s wife Asma, who heads a series of Syrian charities.
In December, the Finance Ministry in December included Makhlouf and his wife among entrepreneurs whose assets were frozen over tax evasion and illicit profit.
Bashar al-Assad has offered no response to the developments or his cousin’s appeals.