10 July 1969 |
|Relatives||Hafez Makhlouf (brother)|
Rami Makhlouf (Arabic: رامي مخلوف, born 10 July 1969) is a wealthy Syrian businessman and the maternal cousin of President Bashar al-Assad. He is considered one of the most powerful men in Syria and according to Syrian analysts no foreign company can do business in Syria without his consent and partnership. He is a part of Bashar Assad's inner circle. He is regarded as Syria's wealthiest man—worth approximately $5 billion.
Rami Makhlouf is related to the Assad family through his aunt Anisa Makhlouf who is the wife of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. His personal wealth was estimated in 2008 to be about $6 billion. He was born on 10 July 1969.
Rami Makhlouf is the main owner of Syriatel which is one of two licensed mobile phone companies in Syria. Besides owning Syriatel, he is involved in real estate, banking, free trade zones along the border with Lebanon, duty-free shops, and luxury department stores. According to Financial Times, he is thought to control as much as 60% of the Syrian economy through his web of business interests.
Makhlouf was among a diverse group of connected insiders who monopolized the small, but growing, Syrian private sector in the 1990s. As President Hafez al-Assad prepared for his son's succession, the distribution of assets from privatization began to shift clearly in favor of the Makhloufs. Assad believed the Makhlouf family could be relied upon to support Bashar without reserve in the uncertain political environment that would follow upon his death. This was in contrast to other insiders who had close financial ties to billionaire Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, such as former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam. Rami and his brother Ihab therefore enjoyed easy access to opportunities such as an exclusive license to operate a network of duty-free retail shops where a significant portion of goods were redistributed inside the country. By the time Bashar assumed power in 2000, Rami Makhlouf was well established.
Rami Makhlouf is thought to have attempted in 2004 to take over the Mercedes concession in Syria by ensuring a law was passed denying Mercedes the right to import parts unless Makhlouf was made the exclusive agent for Mercedes in Syria. Mercedes wanted to keep the Sanqar family who had the concession since the 1960s. Mercedes stopped all activity in Syria until the dispute was resolved, the Mercedes concession is now once again controlled by the Sanqar family.
Makhlouf's current business interests are extensive. He is the majority owner of Cham Holding which has investments in luxury tourism, restaurants, and real estate through Bena Properties. Cham Holding also controls Syrian Pearl Airlines, the first private airline to be allowed in the country. He is also invested in several private banks established in Syria, such as the International Islamic Bank of Syria, Al Baraka Bank, International Bank of Qatar, Cham Bank, Bank of Jordan in Syria; in insurance companies; and in financial services companies, such as Cham Capital. Like his father, Mohammed Makhlouf, he is active in the oil sector, via the British oil company Gulfsands Petroleum. He is also invested in real estate companies such as Sourouh, Fajr, Al Batra, and Al Hada'iq; in tourism companies such as Al Mada'in; in media companies such as daily Al Watan, radio/television station Ninar and satellite station Dunya TV; in advertising companies such as Promedia; in education companies such as the Chouwayfat schools; in industry through the Eltel Middle East company; and in Public Work's companies such as Ramak TP. Rami Makhlouf has extensive land holdings in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were the subject of court litigation. As a result of this litigation Rami's U.S. holdings were transferred to his brother Ihab. The Makhloufs also have a monopoly on the import of tobacco into Syria. In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department froze the U.S. assets and restricted the financial transactions of Rami Makhluf.
Makhlouf maintains a close relationship with Bushra al-Assad, Bashar's older sister, and her husband Assef Shawkat. He also operates a number of different business projects in Lebanon with Maher al-Assad, Bashar's younger brother. There are reports of tensions between the two, which is considered why parts of the Makhlouf business were shifted in 2005 to Dubai. Some observers believe the transfers were made because the Makhloufs were worried that they were going to be made the scapegoats of an anti-corruption propaganda campaign.
On 5 July 2012, it is reported that the Central Bank of the UAE ordered the banks and financial institutions to search for and submit details of any financial assets and transactions performed by the Syrian ruling elite, including Rami Makhlouf. This search was based on the decision of the Ministerial Council of the League of Arab States dated 27 November 2011, to impose multiple sanctions on Syria and decisions issued by the European Union and the United States involving economic sanctions on Syria.
Accusations of corruption
In February 2008, the United States Department of the Treasury designated Makhlouf as a beneficiary and facilitator of public corruption in Syria. His influence and connections within the regime have allowed him to control the issuance of certain types of profitable commodities contracts. According to the Treasury Department, “Makhlouf has manipulated the Syrian judicial system and used Syrian intelligence officials to intimidate his business rivals. He employed these techniques when trying to acquire exclusive licenses to represent foreign companies in Syria and to obtain contract awards.” On 10 May 2011 the European Union placed sanctions on him for bankrolling the regime and allowing violence against demonstrators.
Rami Makhlouf is viewed by the Syrian opposition as a symbol of corruption in Syria. In Daraa during the 2011 Syrian uprising, demonstrators accused him of being a "thief". Among political observers it is generally accepted that Makhlouf's great wealth is a result of his close family ties to the Syrian regime. It is reported that Bashar al-Assad before he became president would during official meetings try to make business contacts for Rami. In US diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks, Rami Makhlouf is described as a powerful regime financer. Makhlouf has further been accused of illegally diverting Lebanese telephone calls through Syria with the help of businessman Pierre Fattouch for the benefit of Syriatel.
The arrest and imprisonment for several years of the Syrian dissident Riad Seif is related to his criticism of Rami Makhlouf. Seif, a member of parliament and one of the most ardent critics of the Syrian government, became known outside of Syria because of his government criticism during the Damascus Spring of 2001. Despite several warnings by the Syrian regime not to interfere, Riad began in September 2001 an anticorruption campaign against the way the two GSM mobile phone licenses were awarded, one of which had been awarded to Maklouf's Syriatel. Shortly thereafter Seif lost his parliamentary immunity and was arrested and imprisoned for five years.
2011 Syrian uprising
Opposition activists during the 2011 Syrian uprising accused Makhlouf of financing pro-government demonstrations both across Syria and abroad, by providing flags, meals and money for those participating. The tycoon insisted his businesses are legitimate and provide professional employment for thousands of Syrians.
On 16 June 2011, Rami Makhlouf stated that he would "quit the Syrian business scene". Syria Files examined by Al Akhbar showed that Makhlouf continued to invest in several banks during 2011 and 2012. In late January 2012, he bought about 15 times as much shares (by value) as he sold, buying £S127 million and selling £S8.67 million of shares, mostly in Qatar National Bank–Syria and Syria International Islamic Bank.
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