To Circumvent Western Sanctions, Syria’s Assad Looked to a Moscow Skyscraper: FT
11 Nov 2019

Family members of Bashar al-Assad have purchased at least 20 Moscow apartments worth an aggregate $40 million over the past six years, despite EU and US sanctions targeting the Syrian leader, the Financial Times reported Monday.

The real estate deals, including the purchase of 18 luxury apartments in Moscow’s elite City of Capitals complex, were completed via a web of corporate entities and loan arrangements, most of which involved offshore Lebanese companies that are currently listed as the property owners, the newspaper reported, citing documents obtained by the anti-corruption group Global Witness.

Thirteen of the apartments can be traced back to Hafez Makhlouf, the former leader of a Syrian security force and a key figure in the country’s 2011 crackdown on peaceful protesters.

Two separate properties were purchased by the wife and sister-in-law of Hafez’s older brother Rami Maklouf, a childhood friend and maternal cousin of Assad who, as the head of the mobile network Syriatel, is also believed to be the richest businessman in Syria, the FT said.

Rami, Hafez and their two brothers—Iyad and Ihab Makhlouf—have been targets of EU sanctions since March 2011. The United States blacklisted Rami Makhlouf in 2008 for alleged corruption. Together, the brothers are believed to be the informal “fund managers” for Bashar al-Assad and are accused of  helping the Syrian dictator move his familial assets out of the reach of Western sanctions, sources told the Financial Times.

“Russia has from the beginning been helping the Assad regime subvert sanctions,” Lina Khatib, Middle East and north Africa programme head at Chatham House, told the newspaper. “It sees itself right now as the guarantor of the Syrian state and therefore [does] everything it can, whether militarily, politically or economically, to keep the Syrian state alive while also keeping it loyal to Moscow.”

The majority of purchases took place in 2016, a year after Russia began bombing opposition-held territory in Syria, according to the report. In September of that year, three companies registered in Russia bought 11 apartments in the City of Capitals two-tower skyscraper, which as one Europe’s tallest buildings counts multinational businesses and some of Russia’s top banks as its tenants.

The three firms behind the purchases were ultimately controlled by Hafez Makhlouf, the Financial Times said.

“[The property deals] are rare evidence of how Russia has helped sanctioned individuals who have assisted and benefited from the murderous Assad regime move their assets out of Damascus and evade international regulations,” Isobel Koshiw of Global Witness told the FT. “It is allowing them to take refuge in Moscow where they enjoy luxurious lifestyles as Syria burns.”

Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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