Damascus Arrests 15 Officers over Links to Rami Makhlouf
Syrian intelligence arrested on Sunday more than 15 officers in Damascus for their association with business tycoon Rami Makhlouf, president Bashar Assad’s cousin, who has dramatically fallen from grace with the regime.
The officers were detained on charges of “collaborating with foreign parties and stealing funds from the state treasury.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, said that the officers had previously threatened to “scorch the earth” if any harm were to come to Makhlouf.
Observatory chief Rami Abdulrahman told Asharq Al-Awsat that the arrests were part of the crackdown against Makhlouf’s assets and companies.
Twelve former fighters in the al-Bustan Association were previously detained. They were involved in recruiting members to fight for the regime. They were arrested by Syrian intelligence, accompanied by Russian police, in the Latakia province.
The latest arrests bring to 71 the number of directors, employees and fighters, associated to Makhlouf, who have been held by the regime since April.
The businessman has been embroiled in a power struggle with the state since 2019, when authorities seized control of his charity, al-Bustan, and dissolved militias affiliated to him.
In a bid to replenish state coffers, the government in May ordered the seizure of assets from Makhlouf and his family. Days later, Syria's justice ministry announced a travel ban on the tycoon.
The government has justified its latest measures by claiming Makhluf’s Syriatel telecommunication company owes it money, including outstanding fees for maintaining its operating license. But in a series of videos, Makhlouf disputed such claims, saying some in power were seeking to overthrow him and reap a cut of the company's profits.
Makhlouf, who himself is under both US and EU sanctions, had been considered to be a pillar of Assad's regime ever since the president took over from his father in 2000.
His business empire, estimated to be worth billions of dollars, includes stakes in telecommunications, electricity and real estate.
His dispute with the regime comes as Damascus grapples with a severe economic downturn after nine years of war.