| 28 February 2024, Wednesday |

Congressmen Upset over ‘Assad’s Wealth Growth’ despite US Sanctions

The US State Department estimated the wealth of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his family at $1 to $2 billion, despite the imposed sanctions.


The estimated figure surprised US lawmakers amid international reports stating that nearly 90 percent of the Syrian people live below the poverty line.


Ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jim Risch said that Assad amassed his illegal wealth, which solidifies his regime and funds his crimes against the Syrian people.


He asserted that international and economic isolation remains the best tool for seeking accountability.


Risch called on the US administration to step up the implementation of the “Caesar Act” approved by Congress while mitigating its impact on the public.


The State Department’s report concerned members of the Legislative Council about the Biden administration’s policy in the Middle East and Syria.


Some senators believe the administration is not doing enough to push against the normalization of relations with the Assad regime.


Risch criticized Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who attended a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this week.


The Senator said that sanctions of the Caesar Act were not implemented, adding that the administration did not publicly encourage normalization with the Assad regime, but it is clear there are no repercussions for others.


Congressional sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that there was general dissatisfaction among lawmakers with the information in the State Department report that showed that Assad and his family had circumvented the US and international sanctions imposed on them.


They explained that they established a complex system including shell companies and corporate facades that serves as a tool for the regime to access financial resources via seemingly legitimate corporate structures and non-profit entities.


The report added the regime “launders money acquired from illicit economic activities including smuggling, arms trading, drug trafficking, and protection and extortion rackets.”


At the outset of the report, the Department announced that it was based on open-source information, but this is a ballpark estimate that the Department cannot corroborate independently.


It indicated it was difficult to accurately estimate the net worth of Assad and his extended family members, given that family assets are believed to be spread out and concealed in numerous accounts, real estate portfolios, corporations, and offshore tax-havens.


It is likely that “any assets located outside of Syria and not seized or blocked are likely held under false names or by other individuals, to obscure ownership and evade sanctions.”


The report examines the finances of Bashar Assad and his wife Asma, Bashar’s brother Maher, Bashar’s sister Bushra, Bashar’s cousins Rami and Ihab Makhlouf, Bashar’s uncle Rifaat Assad, and Bashar’s paternal cousins Dhu al-Himma and Riad Shalish.


The Department does not have sufficient information on the net worth of Bashar Assad’s three children, Hafez, Zayn, and Karim.


Bashar and Asma al-Assad:


The information included in the assessment is based on NGO reporting, and media sources assess claiming that Bashar and Asma Assad exert significant influence over much of Syria’s wealth.


“The Assads maintain close patronage relationships with Syria’s largest economic players, using their companies to launder money from illicit activities and funnel funds to the regime. These networks penetrate all sectors of the Syrian economy.”


The report singles out Asma al-Assad, saying that she established a network that enjoys “increasing influence over the Syrian economy.”


Maher and Bushra al-Assad:


The report sheds light on the role of Maher in drug smuggling operations. Maher is the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, through which he acts as the head of a patronage network involved in illicit activities.


NGO and media outlets allege the Fourth Armored Division also collects fees from traffic passing through official and unofficial Syrian checkpoints under its control and charges protection and royalty fees for commercial transports.


The public report does not provide detailed information on Maher’s wealth and refers lawmakers to the classified annex to this report.


The State Department stated that Bushra and her children have reportedly lived in Dubai since 2012, following a dispute with Bashar over his handling of the conflict, adding: “We do not have reliable information on Bushra’s net worth.”


Rami Makhlouf:


The report describes Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, as one “of Syria’s richest and most powerful men and at one time controlled a large share of the Syrian economy.”


Open-source estimates of Makhlouf’s wealth range between $5-10 billion.

  • Asharq Al-Awsat