Makhlouf slapped with travel ban as family rift spins out of control
LONDON –A high-profile financial dispute between one of Syria’s wealthiest businessmen and the Syrian regime is beginning to spin out of control amid failed negotiations between the two sides.
In a sign of an escalation by the Syrian regime, a court placed a temporary travel ban on Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of Syrian President Bashar Assad who owns the powerful telecoms company Syriatel, according to a copy of the court order posted on the Ministry of Justice’s Facebook page.
The court’s decision was the latest in a series of government measures against Makhlouf, including the confiscation of his assets earlier this week and warnings that more financial claims would be made against him.
The crackdown on Makhlouf, whose business activities impact a large portion of the Syrian economy, is part of a widely publicised family rift.
Makhlouf has publicly challenged the financial claims made against him, saying they are unjust and calling for Assad to step in and intervene on his behalf.
The president has made no public statements about the affair — the most visible split in the tight-knit family which has ruled Syria for nearly 50 years. Makhlouf is Assad’s maternal cousin.
The government May 19 ordered Makhlouf’s assets and those of his wife and children seized and barred him from doing business with the state for five years.
Makhlouf has contested the legality of all the moves in recorded videos. In his last one May 19, he said they “just want to control the company and they see nothing else,” without elaborating.
Syriatel is one of Syria’s largest employers, with thousands of staff and 11 million subscribers.
The dispute has pried open divisions in the Assad family that could weaken the regime’s position politically and economically, especially after the collapse of the value of the local currency, the lira, against a rocket rise of the dollar in parallel markets.
It also comes as the country, struggling under Western sanctions, enters a new phase of economic hardship.
The fall in the value of Syria’s currency had already sent prices of basic commodities soaring.
Now, the economy is taking a further hit due to restrictions imposed to combat the coronavirus.