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Target of Deadly Protests In Syria Has US Investments (FORBES)

BY Zina Moukheiber

Protesters in the Syrian town of Daraa have directed their wrath at Rami Makhlouf, the rich and powerful cousin of president Bashar al-Assad, and an emblem of corruption in Syria. They have chanted “Makhlouf you thief,” and on Sunday burneda branch of Syriatel, the country’s dominant telecom which he controls with family members.

Ramy Makhlouf is considered one of the most powerful men in the region, and is also thought to be one of the richest men in the world

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Treasury designated the 41-year-old Makhlouf as a person benefiting from corruption, and stated the following:

“Rami Makhluf is a powerful Syrian businessman who amassed his commercial empire by exploiting his relationships with Syrian regime members. Makhluf has manipulated the Syrian judicial system and used Syrian intelligence officials to intimidate his business rivals. He employed these techniques when trying to acquire exclusive licenses to represent foreign companies in Syria and to obtain contract awards.

Makhluf is the maternal cousin of President Bashar al-Asad and through this relationship, Makhluf has become a focal point of Syria’s telecommunications, commercial, oil, gas and banking sectors. Despite President Asad’s highly publicized anti-corruption campaigns, Makhluf remains one of the primary centers of corruption in Syria.

Makhluf’s influence with certain Syrian government officials has led to his being able to control the issuance of certain types of profitable commodities contracts. His close business associations with some Syrian cabinet ministers have enabled him to gain access to lucrative oil exploration and power plant projects. Makhluf’s preferential access to Syrian economic sectors has led to complaints about him from members of the Syrian business community.

Pursuant to E.O. [executive order] 13460, any assets that Makhluf holds under U.S. jurisdiction will be frozen, and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in business or transactions with Makhluf.”

That hasn’t stopped Makhlouf from owning a piece in U.S.-based properties through a foreign publicly-traded company. Via a holding company called Al Mashrek Global Invest Ltd., Makhlouf owns nearly 6% of U.K. company Gulfsands Petroleum. The London-based firm has oil and gas properties in the Gulf of Mexico, mostly offshore Texas and Louisiana. Gulfsands is now trying to sell them, because it considers them “non-core” businesses.

Gulfsands operates in Syria, where in June 2007 it discovered an oil field in the northeastern corner of the country. That same month itannouncedthat Makhlouf was investing £10.15 million in the company—a slight discount to that day’s closing price on the London Stock Exchange.

“These funds will assist us to accelerate our activities in Syria including the evaluation of the future development of our recent oil and gas discovery at Khurbet East,” said the company’s chairman and CEO.

Besides his interests in oil and gas, Makhlouf controls Syriatel. In 2001, the Syrian government had awarded the license to build operate and transfer a mobile network to Orascom Telecom, a leading Middle Eastern telecommunications company owned by Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris. Orascom picked up a 25% stake in Syriatel, but things quickly deteriorated, and Orascom sued its local Syrian partner Makhlouf for “persistent attempts…to assume management control of Syriatel…with a particular motive to be able to sign solely on all bank accounts…” Sawiris pulled out in 2003.

Makhlouf who’s now chaiman of Syriatel describes himself in the company’s annual report as “one of Syria’s most important businessmen with deep expertise in the creation of successful companies in a wide range of industries…”  Syriatel generated $1 billion in revenues in 2009 (last year it released financials on its website); that’s 1% of Syria’s gross domestic product.

Read more at Forbes.com

  1. rod cox
    April 12, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    The Syrian regime committed massacres against the Syrian people.. All due to the negative attitude to America than this.. The system is rejected by the people and America to must stand with the people and not with the late autocratic ruler certainly
    We need in America to a demonstration in favour of the struggle of the Syrian people to a repressive regime authoritarian
    What the position of the US administration of the blood bath now by the Syrian security services who although fire on thousands of mourners their martyrs yesterday night at the hands of the rules of regime

    must be the confiscation of funds this person.. Makhluf it treasury money was stolen from the Syrian state but the president this protects the thief.. blood is flowing because they are not the leaders of

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