Syria telecoms tycoon Rami Makhlouf makes rare video addressing Assad regime

Bashar Al Assad's cousin posted on Facebook after the regime ruled to seize his assets

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's cousin Rami Makhlouf has made a rare video addressing him and an order to seize assets. 
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's cousin Rami Makhlouf has made a rare video addressing him and an order to seize assets. 

Rami Makhlouf, the maternal cousin of Syria's Bashar Al Assad, has made a rare public statement addressing the president over an order to seize his assets.

In the video on Facebook, the wealthy businessman said he had offered money to "assist people" in Ramadan, but had received threats against his companies.

“After reports about a donation we planned to make during the holy month of Ramadan to assist our people, things went out of control," Mr Makhlouf said.

"We received threats to stop our work, simply because we dared to publicly offer assistance to the needy. Why the more grants we offer, the more the curse we receive?”

Mr Makhlouf owns the Syriatel communications company. It has about 11 million users and pays 12 billion Syrian pounds (Dh86.1m/US$23.4m) in tax and 50 per cent of profits to the regime, he said in the video.

He said a government committee asked him for between 125bn and 130bn Syrian pounds for tax fraud, and said Mr Al Assad should oversee distributing the money from his company to the poor as "all the others cannot be trusted".

"I respect your decision, Mr President, and it's my duty to carry it out but I'm begging you to give the requested funds to those in need," he said.

The Syrian regime has ordered a measures against companies owned by Mr Makhlouf and his shares in Syriatel.

Mr Makhlouf stressed that 50 per cent of the income from his companies already goes to the regime.

"If we profit 1 Syrian lira then the government also gets 1 Syrian lira, this is aside from the taxes that we already pay," he said.

Mr Makhlouf expressed his willingness to pay the amount imposed by the government, despite calling it "unfair".

"How can someone steal from his own country?" he said.

Mr Makhlouf said the requested funds did not comply with the terms of the contract between his companies and the government, and did not take into consideration the company's income and expenses.

He asked for the money to be taken in instalments so that his businesses do not collapse.

The Syrian regime is forcing entrepreneurs and businessmen to pay millions of dollars as of last year to the Central Bank to save the country from bankruptcy.

The Finance Ministry decided last week to seize the assets of Abar Petroleum Service, an oil and gas shipping company owned by Mr Makhlouf and registered in Beirut.

They said he had breached import rules and smuggled products worth 1.9bn Syrian pounds into the country without paying the fees.

Mr Makhlouf has been under international sanctions since 2008 because of his support for the regime.

Updated: May 4, 2020 12:04 AM

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