Assad awards duty-free contract to Rami Makhlouf’s brother
The vendetta between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his billionaire cousin Rami Makhlouf took a new twist on Sunday after the regime awarded Rami's brother, Ehab Makhlouf, and his Kuwaiti business partner, Abdel Hamid Dashti, a contract to operate Syria's duty free shops.
The shops were previously operated by "Ramak", a company belonging to Rami Makhlouf, but the Syrian regime ended Ramak's contract following the dispute between Rami and Bashar al-Assad.
|Pro-regime Twitter accounts published photos of Bashar al-Assad with members of the Makhlouf and Ismail families|
Rami Makhlouf was rumoured to have once controlled as much as 60 percent of Syria's wealth, owning stakes in the country's oil, tourism, telecommunications, and electricity sectors.
He 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 and 12 million displaced in the nine-year conflict, mostly as a result of indiscriminate regime bombing of civilian areas.
Rami's business empire included SyriaTel, Syria's largest mobile network provider. However, in August 2019, he fell from grace with the Syrian regime after reportedly refusing to service its war debts.
Bashar al-Assad's wife Asma led a campaign to take over his assets in Syria and Rami posted videos on social media in May 2020 saying that he had been mistreated by the regime.
Ehab Makhlouf resigned from his position as deputy chairman of the board of SyriaTel following his brother's dispute with Assad, declaring his loyalty to the Syrian dictator rather than Rami.
"All the companies in the world can’t shake my allegiance to the leadership of Assad," he declared in a Facebook post. In June 2020, SyriaTel was placed under judicial trusteeship and some of its top executives have been arrested.
The Syrian opposition website Sawt Al-Asimah reported that the contract to operate duty free shops would last for five years and was worth 15 million dollars a year.
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Twitter accounts close to the Syrian regime reported on Sunday that Bashar al-Assad had visited Syria’s Latakia province, where the Assad and Makhlouf families are originally from.
There he met with members of the Makhlouf family following his fallout with Rami.
It is believed that the awarding of the contract to Ehab is an attempt by Bashar to reconcile with the family. Some Syrian opposition sites, however, described it as a renewed attack by Bashar on Rami, who is rumoured to have fled to the UAE after the confiscation of most of his Syria-based assets.