Syria regime using 'clandestine' shell companies to evade international sanctions, documents reveal

Syria regime using 'clandestine' shell companies to evade international sanctions, documents reveal
Official documents seen by The Guardian have revealed how the Assad regime is using shell companies to avoid sanctions.
3 min read
22 March, 2022
At least three shell companies were set up in a single day, to avoid sanctions [Getty]

The Syrian regime is engaging in clandestine business practices designed to help Assad avoid international sanctions, according to documents seen by The Guardian

They show that shell companies have been created - at least three in a single day - whose sole purpose is to buy shares in other companies and manage their affairs. 

Such practices allow sanctioned individuals to bypass and avoid international sanctions.

The owners of the shell companies have direct ties to Syria's Bashar al-Assad and other leading figures in the Syrian regime who have been sanctioned for their involvement in crimes against the civilians.

The Syrian regime has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in its brutal suppression of a pro-democracy movement that broke out in 2011. It has also detained over 100,000 people since the 2011 uprising began with many feared dead from torture and ill-treatment.

The documents show that in October 2021, three companies were established: Trappist, Generous and Super Brandy. All three of the firms are jointly owned by people with strong links to the regime. 

The three companies are jointly owned by Rana Ahmad Khalil, Rita Ahmad Khalil, and Ali Najib Ibrahim. 

Ali Najib Ibrahim is also the part-owner of Tele Space, along with Ahmad Khalil Khalil, the father of Rana and Rita. Tele Space is also the part-owner of Wafa JSC, who secured lucrative licenses to be Syria’s third telecoms operator. 

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One of the other part-owners of Wafa JSC is Yasar Hussein Ibrahim, who acts as an adviser to Assad and heads the economic and financial office of the presidency. He has been sanctioned by both the US and UK. 

Ahmad Khalil Khalil also holds a piece of Sanad Protection and Security Services, with Nasser Deeb Deeb. 

Sanad Protection and Security Services oversees and protects Russia's phosphate shipments from mines in central Syria to the port of Tartous. 

Deeb, in turn, co-owns Ella Services with Khodr Ali Taher. Both men are sanctioned by the US. 

This intricate web of shell companies, owners, and co-owners, is designed to muddy the waters and avoid and evade international sanctions, a practice in which the Syrian regime has become adept. 

Syria's Economy Minister Muhammad Samer Al-Khalil urged foreign investors to return to Syria last October, proclaiming that "evading sanctions has become a Syrian craft".

Khalil explained that those who do trade in the heavily sanctioned country would not "appear under their true names in the local market".

The revelation that Syrian shell companies are being used to evade sanctions has undermined the actions of Western powers, like the US, who are seeking to curb and punish the actions of the Assad regime. 

"The new [Biden] administration’s sanctions have been very limited and, in a way, they do not have the appetite that was in the previous administration to impose sanctions on individuals in Syria," Eyad Hamid, senior researcher at the Syrian Legal Development Program, told The Guardian

"There needs to be more investment, investigations and on-the-ground sources to keep up with these changes in the Syrian business scene because it’s not a stable environment, it keeps shifting."