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Cablegate: Attacking Bashar's Money

VZCZCXRO0088
PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHDM #0054/01 0241517
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 241517Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4564
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC PRIORITY
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0339

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 000054

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NEA/ELA
NSC FOR SINGH
TREASURY FOR GLASER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/23/2027
TAGS: EFIN ETTC PGOV PREL PTER SY
SUBJECT: ATTACKING BASHAR'S MONEY

REF: A. 07 DAMASCUS 2066
B. 07 DAMASCUS 1926
C. 07 DAMASCUS 68

Classified By: CDA Michael H. Corbin for reasons 1.5 b/d

1. (S) Summary. As Washington policy makers consider ways to
pressure the regime, one possibility would be to go after
President Asad's money-men. Four individuals Asad uses to
make and move money are Zuhair Sahloul, Nabil Kuzbari, Asad's
uncle Mohammad Makhlouf, and his father-in-law, Fawas Akhras.
Each is important to Asad and each plays a somewhat
different role in facilitating regime graft. End summary.

2. (S) Sahloul (AKA Abu Shafic) is the most important
black-market money changer in Syria. When the Syrian Pound
(SYP) devalued precipitously in the fall of 2005, the SARG
gave Sahloul an office in the Central Bank and access to its
hard currency reserves so he could intervene in the black
market to stabilize the currency. (Note. Sahloul was
surprisingly effective and within weeks the SYP appreciated
20 percent, allowing Sahloul in the process a handsome profit
for both himself and a handful of regime-insiders. End
note.) Sahloul moves Asad's money using his own network and
his access to Hawalis worldwide. A Sahloul intimate bragged
to us recently that Sahloul could move ten million dollars
anywhere in the world in 24-hours.

3. (S) In addition to being the father of Syria's poster-boy
for corruption, Rami Makhlouf, Mohammad Makhlouf has long
served as a financial advisor to the Asad family. If Rami is
the face of corruption, Mohammad is the brain. When Asad
agreed to open the telecom sector to cellphone providers, it
was Mohammad that some credit with conceptualizing the deal
whereby Rami took over the first provider, SyriaTel, (long
Rami's biggest cash-cow), and the second license (originally
to SpaceTel, then Areeba 94, and now MTN) went to the
first-lady's family (see para five below). Long held in
check by his brother-in-law, the late president Hafiz Asad,
under Bashar Asad, Mohammad's avarice reportedly has no
bounds. As a result, the Makhloufs have had an at-times
problematic relationship with Bashar and were forced to leave
the country for a number of months in 2005 following one
particularly heated exchange.

4. (S) Because of the Makhlouf's excesses and Asad's
inherited propensity to limit the power and influence of his
family members, Nabil Kuzbari has played an increasingly
important role for the first-family. Known locally as "the
Paper King," Kuzbari's base of operations has long been in
Vienna. In the last two years, however, he has developed an
increasingly collaborative relationship with Rami and
Mohammed Makhlouf. Last year he served as Rami's frontman in
establishing his holding company, Sham Holding, which brought
together 70 of Syria's most-important business families to
fund a number of Rami's most ambitious entrepreneurial
projects. In addition to lobbying European politicians to
engage the Asad regime, Kuzbari reportedly uses his contacts
in the Austrian business and banking circles to move regime
assets abroad.

5. (S) In addition to being Asad's father-in-law, Fawas
Akhras has been increasingly active in business here in
Syria. Akhras is the force behind the Syrian-British
Business Council and recently put together a visit to London
by a large group of Syrian businessmen. Coming only lately
to business, Akhras has stepped on a number of established
business families who increasingly resent his assertiveness
and willingness to use his son-in-law's position to advance
his nascent Syria-based businesses. Contacts in the banking
sector have commented on the large amount of funds that have
begun to move recently through his accounts. A long-time
resident of London, he is suspected of being another avenue
used by Asad to stash funds abroad.

6. (S) Comment. Post has long advocated moving against
individuals, like those listed above, who are intregal to
allowing the regime to profit from its corruption. Taking
action against those linked to corruption is a win-win
proposition: not only does it bring pressure on the regime
where it hurts most - its pocketbook, but such a move would
also be popular with the average Syrian who is the most
common victim of the regime's avarice.

CORBIN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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