As­sad fam­ily moved $40m into lux­ury prop­er­ties in Rus­sia, cam­paign­ers say

The National - News - - NEWS - NICKY HAR­LEY Lon­don

The fam­ily of Syria’s Pres­i­dent Bashar Al As­sad have been linked to pur­chases of lux­ury prop­erty in Rus­sia worth $40 mil­lion (Dh146.9m).

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by anti-cor­rup­tion group Global Wit­ness re­vealed the pur­chase of prop­er­ties in two Moscow sky­scrapers.

The rev­e­la­tions come as the fam­ily seeks new ways to move Syr­ian regime money be­yond the reach of western sanc­tions.

Their prop­er­ties were bought in the up­mar­ket Moscow City district by mem­bers of Mr Al As­sad’s in­ner cir­cle, in­clud­ing the Makhlouf fam­ily and Mr Al As­sad’s cousins.

The Makhlouf fam­ily, headed by Mr Al As­sad’s un­cle Mo­hammed Makhlouf, is con­sid­ered to be Syria’s rich­est and second most im­por­tant fam­ily.

Be­fore 2011, it con­trolled 60 per cent of the Syr­ian econ­omy, but now al­most all the fam­ily have been sanc­tioned by the Eu­ro­pean Union and United States for their var­i­ous roles in Mr Al As­sad’s cam­paign of vi­o­lence against his own peo­ple.

Global Wit­ness said: “Our ex­posé of the Makhloufs’ prop­er­ties is rare sup­port­ing ev­i­dence that lends sub­stance to ru­mours of regime money be­ing fun­nelled out of Syria through­out the war.

“In­for­ma­tion about the regime’s as­sets and fi­nances is no­to­ri­ously scarce due to the ter­ror fos­tered by Al As­sad’s ap­pa­ra­tus at home and abroad.

“Our in­ves­ti­ga­tion fur­ther shows that the loans se­cured against some of the prop­er­ties could be for the pur­poses of laun­der­ing money from Syria into Moscow.

“This opens the pos­si­bil­ity that the money could then be moved into other ju­ris­dic­tions, such as the EU, where mem­bers of the fam­ily are sanc­tioned.”

Many of the prop­er­ties were bought by Hafez Makhlouf, one of Mr Al As­sad’s first cousins who has been sanc­tioned over al­le­ga­tions that he over­saw the tor­ture and mur­der of anti-regime protesters.

The re­port said that loan deals against 11 of the prop­er­ties were with off­shore Le­banese com­pa­nies.

Five other Makhlouf fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing the wife of Syria’s rich­est man, Rami Makhlouf, also bought prop­erty there be­tween De­cem­ber 2013 and June this year.

Sber­bank, Rus­sia’s largest bank, is al­leged to have pro­vided services for one of the prop­er­ties. It has not com­mented.

The bank is not bound by EU or US sanc­tions law but it does have branches in ma­jor Eu­ro­pean and US fi­nan­cial cen­tres, in­clud­ing Lon­don, Frank­furt and New York.

The re­port con­cluded: “There is lit­tle doubt that the money is tied to grave hu­man rights abuses in Syria.

“All fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions must en­sure that ro­bust due dili­gence pro­cesses are in place to pre­vent tainted money, like that of the Makhloufs, en­ter­ing the global fi­nan­cial sys­tem.

“Weak­nesses in such pro­cesses al­low abu­sive and klep­to­cratic rulers to en­joy the spoils of their il­le­gal ac­tions while the vic­tims of such regimes, in­clud­ing the ci­ti­zens of Syria, con­tinue to suf­fer without re­course to jus­tice.”

Dmitry Peskov, the Krem­lin spokesman, told The Times that Moscow did not know whether Mr Al As­sad’s rel­a­tives had bought prop­erty.

“In Rus­sia we have an ab­so­lutely free mar­ket,” he said.

Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al As­sad’s fam­ily have been ac­cused of fun­nelling regime money abroad to avoid sanc­tions EPA

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