Assad cousin Makhlouf refuses Syrian government demand to resign from telecoms empire

Syria tycoon Rami Makhlouf said on Sunday that the regime was pressuring him and threatening to stop him and shut down his telecommunications empire unless he lost profits.

Makhlouf, a first cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, laid the latest charges against the Damascus government – the third since April – in a 16-minute Facebook video.

The head of Syria’s largest mobile operator, Syriatel, has been involved in a power struggle with the Assad government since last summer when authorities seized his charity Al-Bustan and dissolved the militias affiliated with it. .

When the Ministry of Finance froze the assets of several businessmen in December due to tax evasion and illicit enrichment, the Syrian press reported that Makhlouf, his wife and his businesses were included.

He said on Sunday that the authorities “demanded that we lose the profits of our business” and hand over “120% of the profits to the state, otherwise we would be arrested”.

Failure to comply, he said, will prompt the authorities to revoke Syriatel’s license.

Online attacks

In late April and again in early May, Makhlouf, who had kept a low profile throughout the nine-year war in Syria, published scathing attacks online against the authorities.

He said they were asking for $ 185 million in payments from Syriatel, urging Assad to intervene and defer the payment.

Makhlouf, who also has interests in electricity, oil and real estate, also accused the security services of detaining employees to intimidate him into resigning from his businesses.

According to the war observer for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights based in Great Britain, about 40 employees of Syriatel and 19 of Al-Bustan have been arrested since April.

Condemning the arrests, Makhlouf said the authorities would release the workers if he paid the $ 185 million and resigned as head of Syriatel.

Makhlouf said he would be willing to pay the amount demanded by the authorities, but the question of his resignation was a red line.

“Anyone who thinks I will resign under these conditions does not know me,” he said.

Makhlouf has long been considered a pillar of the Syrian regime since Assad came to power in 2000, succeeding his father Hafez.

But rumors have swirled sour links between Makhlouf and Assad in recent months, which is waging an anti-corruption campaign to consolidate state finances.

In an interview with Syrian public television in October, Assad said he “called on all private sector players who squandered public funds to return the money.”