SYRIA: Damascus moves to seize assets of Rami Makhlouf, cousin of Bashar al-Assad

DARAMSUQ (DAMASCUS) – On Thursday, the Syrian government in Daramsuq (Damascus) ordered the seizure of the assets of the country’s largest telecommunications company, Syriatel. The owner of the company, Rami Makhlouf, maternal cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, released a video on Facebook decrying the seizure and pleading with the government to compromise.

In the video, Makhlouf stated that Syriatel equally shared its revenue and profits with the government, in addition to paying taxes. Makhlouf claimed that Syriatel has 11 million users and pays 12 billion Syrian Pounds (SP) in tax, in addition to its 50% profit sharing agreement with the government.

He also claimed that a government committee asked him to pay between 125 and 130 billion SP for tax fraud and requested that the money be taken in installments to prevent the company from going bankrupt.

Last week, the Ministry of Finance moved to seize the assets of Abar Petroleum Service SAL, an oil and gas shipping company registered in Lebanon and owned by Makhlouf. The Ministry claimed that the company smuggled 1.9 billion SP worth of petroleum products into the country without paying the appropriate fees.

Makhlouf has been under international sanctions since 2008 due to his support for the Syrian government.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Russia was putting pressure on Assad to demand Rami Makhlouf pay the governments debts to Russia and contribute to the costs of the civil war.

In related news, a Syrian economic researcher revealed an analysis of the resources and the profits announced by Syriatel and MTN, the countries other large mobile telecoms company owner by the South African MTN Group.

The Syrian Ministry of Communications had already warned the two companies to pay about 233 billion SP in order to fulfil their profit-sharing obligations laid out in the licenses granted for both companies, otherwise legal procedures will be taken against them.