Syria's Asma al-Assad 'led' campaign against dictator's billionaire cousin Rami Makhlouf

Syria's Asma al-Assad 'led' campaign against dictator's billionaire cousin Rami Makhlouf
Syria's first lady has been implicated as leading a campaign to strip formerly powerful tycoon Rami Makhlouf of his assets.
3 min read
14 July, 2020
Asma al-Assad is thought to have supported her husband throughout the brutal conflict [Getty]
The wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has been named as the leader of a so-called "anti-corruption campaign" that saw the once influential tycoon Rami Makhlouf stripped of his assets and confined to his home.

Asma Al-Assad has been at the head of the campaign to seize Makhlouf's assets, sources told pro-Hezbollah Lebanese outlet Al-Akhbar, the biggest political shake-up inside the regime for years.

Last month, British-born Asma was sanctioned by the US for her role in the brutal Syrian conflict, highlighting her transformation from figurehead first lady to a leading political player in Syria. 

Makhlouf, a cousin of Assad who formerly dominated the Syrian economy, is now forbidden to leave his home outside of Damascus, sources told Al-Akhbar.

The magnate recently stopped eating for a number of days, fearing he might be poisoned, the sources added.

Regime authorities have been embroiled in a power struggle with Makhlouf since 2019, when Damascus took control of his charity, Al-Bustan, dissolved affiliated militias, and froze his assets, those of his wife, and several of his companies.

In May, the regime seized these assets and placed a travel ban on Makhlouf, the owner of Syria's largest telecoms operator.

Read more: Syria Weekly: Rami Makhlouf's fall from grace confirmed following video plea to Assad

Authorities allege that the magnate evaded taxes and owes the regime millions of dollars after failing to meet financial commitments for his business empire, estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

Analysts say targeting Makhlouf is part of a wider so-called corruption crackdown geared at refilling the state's depleted coffers.

The seizure of his assets came as Syria entered a new stage of economic downturn, with the local currency crashing after nine years of fierce conflict and amid the coronavirus crisis.

Russia had attempted to mediate the conflict between the Assads and Makhlouf, sources told Al-Akbar. While initially promising, with both parties reportedly reaching a settlement, the efforts fell apart for unknown reasons.

After the failed mediation efforts, Makhlouf said on Facebook that authorities had seized all of his companies, accounts and properties not previously targeted by the regime.

The so-called anti-corruption committee led by the Syrian first lady has also set former Prime Minister Imad Khamis in its sights, according to Al-Akhbar.

Khamis was removed from office last month, and has now been accused of embezzlement, corruption and attempting to smuggle funds abroad.

A number of employees of companies owned by Makhlouf have also been detained by regime authorities, according to Al-Akhbar.

Makhlouf is accused of bankrolling the Syrian regime's crackdown on peaceful protests in 2011 and subsequent conflict, during which more than 500,000 have been killed, over 12 million displaced and countless others jailed and tortured.

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