Due to its inability to pay taxes, the Damascus Stock Exchange on Wednesday ordered the seizure of the shares held by Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of the president of Syrias and one of the wealthiest magnates in the country, in 12 foreign banks with local branches.
The move affected its stake in Lebanese Audi Bank, Byblos Bank and Fransabank, the Arab bank based in Jordans and others, sources in Syria told the OCCRP.
The move came two days after the government ordered the attachment of his assets and those of his family to secure payment of some 134 billion Syrian pounds (US $ 261 million) owed to the state by his company Syriatel . In addition to the seizure, the regime also allegedly prohibited Makhlouf from bidding on government contracts for five years.
Makhlouf, who is also co-owner of MTN Syria, denounced the government’s illegal decision in a video posted to his private social media account over the weekend, saying that if those living on earth do not hold them accountable, they will be judged by those who live in heaven.
Bachar al-Assad’s maternal cousin is subject to US and European sanctions for his alleged role in funding the Assad regime during the conflict in Syria, says he faces significant pressure to resign at the head of the business.
They called me and asked me to resign. I refused and said that if I did, I would drop the business and the country. I told them I didn’t do it during the war. I have not abandoned my country, my president and my people, and I will not do so now, he said in the video.
With 11 million subscribers and over 6,500 shareholders, the Syrian government relies on Syriatel for part of its annual income. Continuing this route will only destroy Syriatel and all those who will benefit from its operations, added Makhlouf.
The conflict between Mahklouf and the authorities has created divisions in the country’s ruling elite, and may well mark the first major break in the Assad family since the current president, Father Hafez, took power in 1971.
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