US slaps sanctions on Syrian President’s kins for illicit drug trade
Washington: The United States today claimed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s family members and associates relied on the illicit drug trade to fund his regime’s violent oppression and abuse of the Syrian people. It designated, in coordination with the United Kingdom, six of these individuals, and two entities owned by one of those individuals, for facilitating the production and export of the amphetamine-type stimulant known as Captagon in Syria and Lebanon.
“The individuals and entities being designated today have enabled the Syrian regime to continue carrying out abuses against the Syrian people by providing funds to the regime derived from trade in illicit drugs,” US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said, adding that the United States will continue to coordinate with its allies and partners to target traffickers of illicit drugs and those who provide support to the “Syrian regime’s vicious war”.
As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these persons that are in or come within the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC. In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 per cent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.
The US move has come less than a fortnight after Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the President of the Syrian Arab Republic Bashar al-Assad in the Kremlin on March 15, 2023. Bashar had visited Moscow at Putin’s invitation to discuss current issues of further developing Russian-Syrian political, trade, economic and humanitarian cooperation and prospects for the comprehensive settlement of the situation in Syria and around it. Putin had then stated that owing to their joint efforts and the “decisive contribution” of the Russian Armed Forces, Syria achieved “tangible results in the fight against international terrorism”. Stressing that both leaders should meet more, Bashar had stressed the necessity to “repel terror and oppose all foreign ground forces (read the US and its allies) that are there illegally”. He had also extended Syria’s support to Russia’s “special operation in Ukraine against neo-Nazis and their predecessors”.
Today, underscoring the “al-Assad family dominance of illicit Captagon trafficking and its funding for the oppressive Syrian regime”, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Director Andrea M. Gacki stated: “Syria has become a global leader in the production of highly addictive Captagon, much of which is trafficked through Lebanon. With our allies, we will hold accountable those who support Bashar al-Assad’s regime with illicit drug revenue and other financial means that enable the regime’s continued repression of the Syrian people.”
According to OFAC, the trade in Captagon is estimated to have become a billion-dollar illicit enterprise and these designations, also highlight the important role of Lebanese drug traffickers — some of whom maintain ties to Hizballah — in facilitating the export of Captagon.
The family members of President Bashar al-Assad were designated today pursuant to Executive Orders, “Blocking Property of Certain Persons With Respect to Human Rights Abuses in Syria”; “Blocking Property of the Government of Syria and Prohibiting Certain Transactions With Respect to Syria”; and “Blocking Property and Prohibiting Transactions With Persons Who Commit, Threaten to Commit, or Support Terrorism,” as amended.
The al-Assad family allies designated among the total six persons today were:
- Khalid Qaddour (Qaddour), a Syrian businessman and close associate of Maher al-Assad, who was designated in 2011 in connection with his role in the Government of Syria’s (GoS) “ongoing human rights abuses against the Syrian people”. OFAC claimed Maher al-Assad is the head of the U.S.-designated Fourth Division of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). He is also the brother of Syrian President Bashar, who was designated in 2011 for his leading role in the escalation of violence by the GoS against its population. “Maher al-Assad and the Fourth Division are known to run many illicit revenue-generation schemes, which range from smuggling cigarettes and mobile phones to facilitating the production and trafficking of Captagon,” OFAC stated. It said that it was reportedly Qaddour who was responsible for managing revenues generated by these activities. “Qaddour is being designated for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Maher al-Assad. Qaddour is also being designated pursuant to the Caesar Act for being a foreign person that knowingly provides significant financial, material, or technological support to, or knowingly engages in a significant transaction with, Maher al-Assad,” OFAC said.
- Samer Kamal al-Assad (Samer), who is a cousin of President al-Assad and “oversees key Captagon production facilities in regime-controlled Latakia, Syria, in coordination with the Fourth Division and certain associates of Hizballah”. In 2020, 84 million Captagon pills produced at a factory owned by Samer in Lattakia, Syria, worth an estimated $1.2 billion were seized at the Italian port of Salerno. Samer reportedly also owns a factory producing Captagon in the Qalamoun region near the Syria-Lebanon border, OFAC claimed. “Samer is being designated for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, the GoS. Samer is also being designated pursuant the Caesar Act for being a foreign person that knowingly provides significant financial, material, or technological support to, or knowingly engages in a significant transaction with, the GoS,” it added.
- Wassim Badi al-Assad (Wassim), who is another cousin of President al-Assad. OFAC claimed he supported the SAA in various roles, including leading the Ba’ath Brigades militia, a paramilitary unit under the Syrian Arab Army’s command. “He has publicly called for the formation of sectarian militias to support the regime. Wassim has been a key figure in the regional drug trafficking network, partnering with high-level suppliers to smuggle contraband, Captagon, and other drugs throughout the region, with the tacit support of the Syrian regime,” OFAC said. It added that Wassim was being designated for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Syrian Arab Army.
– global bihari bureau