The Oklahoman

Syria regime siphons aid to its coffers

- Sarah El Deeb

BEIRUT – Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has used distorted exchange rates to divert at least $100 million in internatio­nal aid to its coffers in the past two years, according to new research.

The currency manipulati­on deprives Syrians, most of them impoverish­ed after a decade of war, of much-needed funds. It also allows the Damascus government to circumvent sanctions enforced by Western countries that hold it responsibl­e for most of the war’s atrocities.

“Western countries, despite sanctionin­g Syrian President Bashar Assad, have become one of the regime’s largest sources of hard currency,” said the report published this week by the Center for Strategic and Internatio­nal Studies, a Washington-based research organizati­on that focuses on internatio­nal public policy issues.

“Assad does not merely profit from the crisis he has created,” the report added. “He has created a system that rewards him more the worse things get.”

On Friday, the United Nations acknowledg­ed exchange-rate fluctuations have had “a relative impact” on the effectiven­ess of some of the U.N. programs, particular­ly since the second half of 2019, when the Syrian currency took a nosedive.

Francesco Galtieri, a senior Damascus-based U.N. official, said his office received the report on Thursday. “We are carefully reviewing it, also to openly discuss it in the coming weeks with our donors, who are as concerned as we are that the impact of the assistance to the people in Syria is maximized,” Galtieri, team leader of the Resident and Humanitari­an Coordinato­r for Syria, told the Associated Press in a written response.

The authors of the research published Wednesday said the amount of aid lost and diverted to Syrian government coffers as a result of the national currency fall is likely to be more than $100 million over the last two years.

Syria’s Central Bank, which is sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury, obliges internatio­nal aid agencies to use the official exchange rate – kept to about 1,500 Syrian pounds to the dollar – while the black-market rate hovered about 4,000 pounds to the dollar. The Syrian government outlaws the use of unofficial currency exchange services. The official exchange rate has since been changed to about 2,500, leaving a gap of more than 30%, the report said.

That is an automatic loss of about two-thirds of aid funds in the exchange rate transactio­n, the report said.

The war in Syria has been described as one of modern history’s most brutal, rife with the use of indiscrimi­nate barrel bombs, chemical weapons and torture.

Aid and rights groups also complain that the Syrian government has long directed internatio­nal aid to areas it considers loyal to it and used sieges around areas held by the opposition to deny them assistance.

In a boon to Assad and following years of isolation, a number of Gulf countries have reopened their embassies. Jordan has restored direct flights to Damascus, and Egyptian gas will go through Syria, which will swap it for its own to send to Lebanon.

 ?? HASSAN AMMAR/AP FILE ?? A report says Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government uses currency manipulati­on to divert aid from needy citizens.
HASSAN AMMAR/AP FILE A report says Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government uses currency manipulati­on to divert aid from needy citizens.

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