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The New Arab Staff

Assad’s estranged cousin lashes out at regime figures over ‘biggest heist in the Middle East’

Rami Makhlouf accused 'traitor mercenaries' of stealing from the poorest Syrians [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 September, 2020

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Bashar al-Assad’s estranged cousin Rami Makhlouf, who fell out with the regime in 2019, has accused figures close to the Syrian dictator of stealing money earmarked for the country's poorest.

An estranged cousin of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad posted a fierce diatribe against unnamed members of the Syrian regime on Facebook Monday, accusing them of carrying out "the biggest heist in the Middle East".

Rami Makhlouf, a billionaire businessman who was rumoured to have controlled as much as 60 percent of the Syrian economy at one point, fell out of favour with his cousin's regime in 2019.

He has previously made several videos attempting to portray himself as a philanthropist who has been wronged by Assad and those close to him.

In his latest Facebook post, Makhlouf said that "treasonous mercenaries" and "war profiteers" had tried to gain control of his "humanitarian institutions".

However, Makhlouf himself, who believed by some to have fled to the UAE, has been accused by the US, the EU, and human rights groups of bankrolling the Assad regime's atrocities against civilians during the Syrian conflict.

 

Over 500,000 people have been killed in the Syrian war, which broke out in 2011 when the Assad regime brutally suppressed pro-democracy protests. The Syrian economy has been severely affected and up to 80 percent of Syrians are now believed to live in poverty.

The Guernica 37 group of human rights lawyers has previously called on the UAE authorities to arrest him for his role in crimes against humanity.

"The biggest heist in the Middle East was carried out by war profiteers under the protection of security [forces]. They weren't just content to impoverish [Syria] but they also looted the humanitarian institutions and their projects, selling them off and leaving them without any projects or income, and making the poor poorer and leaving them without means to carry on," Makhlouf said.

He added that he had sent a letter to the head of the Syrian regime's judicial council providing further details on this.

Makhlouf spoke particularly about his "Ramak" company, which previously had a multi-million dollar contract to operate Syria's duty-free shops. In August, Bashar al-Assad transferred the contract to Makhlouf's brother, Ehab Makhlouf, who declared loyalty to Assad's regime after Rami fell out of favour.

Rami Makhlouf characterised Ramak as a "development and humanitarian project" saying that he "hadn't worked on it so that mercenary criminals who have betrayed their country, people, and leadership can with their greed and avarice steal the fruits of these projects from a large segment of Syrian society".

Makhlouf has lost control of several companies since falling out of favour with Assad for his reported refusal to contribute funds to the regime, which is under financial obligation to its backers Russia and Iran.

He previously owned SyriaTel, Syria's leading mobile network provider, and Assad's wife Asmaa is believed to have played a leading role in seizing his assets.

Dozens of SyriaTel employees were arrested by the Syrian regime earlier this year, with some being released recently according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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