US lawmaker raises alarm as Bashar Al-Assad's cousin spotted in Los Angeles
A US lawmaker has raised concerns over how the nephew of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad made it into the country, after he was spotted driving a luxury car in Los Angeles earlier this month.
Critics of the Syrian regime have questioned how Ali Makhlouf, who is also the son of a prominent Syrian business tycoon formerly tied to the Assad regime, obtain a US visa given that his father is on Washington's sanctions lists.
"The image of Ali Makhlouf, cousin of brutal Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, driving a $300,000 Ferrari on the streets of LA, is disgusting," Representative Joe Wilson, a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, told the Washington-based Free Beacon.
"Ali’s father Rami, who runs a network of shell companies that finance the murder, torture, and forced displacement perpetrated against the Syrian people by the Assad regime, appears on multiple US sanctions lists."
Some interpret Ali Makhlouf’s presence on US soil as another sign that the Biden administration has softened its stance against the Assad regime.
Since the brutal repression of the Syrian revolution, the US has pursued a policy of isolating Assad diplomatically and pressuring him through economic sanctions. But the US has recently given its green light to an energy deal between Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and tacitly authorized Jordan - one of its main security partners in the region - to renew ties with Damascus.
Ali Makhlouf’s father, Rami Makhlouf, has been on US sanctions lists since 2008 for his prominent role in Syrian corruption networks. Makhlouf built his fortune through his close ties with the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, his cousin. He was long rumoured to be Syria’s richest man and controller of more than half of the Syrian economy through multiple companies including Syriatel, Syria’s leading phone company.
Throughout the Syrian war, he remained an economic pillar of the Syrian regime. But in 2019, Makhlouf started to fall out with the Syrian regime, who forced him to hand over several of his companies, including Syriatel. In May 2020, most of his assets were seized.