Billionaire cousin of Syria's Assad publicly complains about regime

Billionaire cousin of Syria's Assad publicly complains of "suffering" at the hands of regime
3 min read
01 May, 2020
Businessman Rami Makhlouf, the wealthy cousin of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, took to Facebook to plead with his cousin to show mercy on his business empire.
Rami Makhlouf pleaded with Bashar al-Assad for time to pay tax debts [Twitter]

The billionaire cousin of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad complained of "suffering" at the hands of the regime in a Facebook video published on Thursday night, a rare public appearance in which he discusses the state's crackdown on his businesses.

Rami Makhlouf, Assad's maternal cousin, owned a business empire in Syria, including SyriaTel - the country's largest mobile phone company - and large stakes in sectors such as tourism, aviation, oil, banking and broadcasting.

Reports of a rift between the two cousins have circulated in the past year. Last August, Makhlouf was arrested by the Assad regime for refusing to help pay mounting Syrian war debts.

In October, Assad's wife Asma reportedly seized the Makhlouf family's investments in the Syrian telecommunications industry.

In his first public statement in years, a visibly distressed Makhlouf said the Syrian state ordered him to pay 125 to 130 billion Syrian pounds (244-253 million US dollars) over accusations of tax evasion.

Lamenting that he was made out to be the "bad guy", Makhlouf insisted he met all his financial obligations while conducting his business activities, which included paying approximately 10 billion Syrian pounds in taxes and sharing 50 percent of his revenue with the state.

"We are not evading taxes, we are not manipulating the state and the country, because you are our people," said Makhlouf in the 15-minute video. "Does anybody steal from himself?"

The wealthy businessman stated he is willing to pay the sum, but not all of it at once so as to avoid the collapse of his businesses.

Makhlouf repeatedly addresses Bashar al-Assad directly, at one point requesting he donate the money because officials "cannot be trusted".

"I respect your decision, Mr. President, and it is my duty to oblige," said Makhlouf. "But I implore you to give the requested funds to the poor."

Makhlouf also stated he gave up his businesses to dedicate himself to humanitarian work after the 2011 Syrian uprising against the Assad so as not to "embarrass" his cousin.

In a Tuesday Facebook post, the billionaire said the Syrian state threatened his businesses after his Ramadan charity efforts were publicised.

"The question remains: Why is it that whenever donations increase, the curse increases?" he wrote.

Estimated to be Syria's wealthiest man, Makhlouf is considered a symbol of the regime's nepotism and corruption.

According to the Financial Times, the businessman controlled up to 60 percent of Syria's economy.

Makhlouf was sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2008, which described him as a "powerful Syrian businessman and regime insider whom improperly benefits from and aids the public corruption of Syrian regime officials."

Despite Makhlouf's words of humility in his Facebook plea, his sons Mohammed and Ali have flaunted their family's wealth, posting photos of their lavish lifestyles on their Instagram accounts.

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