Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf warns ‘abuse of power’ by security services in new video
Syria’s most powerful businessman, Rami Makhlouf, has published another video Sunday addressed to President Bashar al-Assad, warning of an “abuse of power” after his employees were arrested by Syrian security services.
Makhlouf made a first and rare media appearance two days ago, contesting recent government measures to seize his assets. Appearing on a live broadcast on Facebook, he alerted the President of the “unfair” measures against him and blamed government officials that he described as untrustworthy.
Today’s second, unexpected broadcast condemned the arrest of his employees. “Today, the pressure on me began in an […] inhumane manner. Security services have started to arrest my employees,” he said.
It is the first time that Makhlouf has openly identified the role of security services in his complaints.
Makhlouf is Assad’s first cousin and his businesses were seen as the economic arm of the regime’s structure. The extraordinary videos provide a rare glimpse into the rifts within the regime’s inner circle.
Today, Makhlouf challenged the demands. “God told us not to fear other people, to fear only Him,” he said, insisting at the end that he would not “abdicate.”
The origins of Assad’s recent rift with Makhlouf are unclear. As Syria faces bankruptcy it seized the assets of some of its prominent businessmen. But analysts also attribute the rift to recent pressure for concessions from Moscow.
Last week, Syria’s state-owned telecoms company, which Makhlouf part-owns, was accused of tax fraud and asked to pay over £S250bn. Two weeks ago, the government seized the assets of another of Makhlouf’s companies, Abar Petroleum Service SAL.
Makhlouf gave assurances that he would pay the sum in the first video, but in this second appearance, he has stressed that he would be “unable to meet the demands placed on him. “I am being asked to give up what I don’t own. I am only the custodian,” he said.
He blamed “others” who were misleading Assad, and warned of “dangers.” “This is an encroachment on private property and it is very dangerous,” said Makhlouf.
He reminded Assad of his role in supporting Syria’s security services, who have now turned against him. Describing himself as the “biggest donor” and “biggest servant” to Syrian intelligence during the war, he asked: “Could anyone have pictured the security services targeting [my] companies?”
“People are saying there is money I have to pay... We are not playing games. You are our people, our family. Would anyone steal from themselves?” Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf says in a video, giving a glimpse into rifts in the regime’s inner circle. https://t.co/0w8kBTTq6M pic.twitter.com/M0ofZu3rM7— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) May 2, 2020
Syria’s dreaded secret police have caused tens of thousands of known deaths and hundreds of thousands of missing people. Yet in an ironic twist, Makhlouf now warns of their abuses. “They are encroaching on the freedom of the people. These are your people. They were loyal to you and they stood by you,” he said.
In his address to Assad, Makhlouf also appeared to be appealing to a wider public. He referred to the “critical” situation in Syria and iterated the public’s loyalty to the president. “We who gave all that is dear and precious,” he said.
Makhlouf commands support from the Alawite community that is also loyal to Assad. His aunt Aniseh who protected him was the influential wife of Hafez al-Assad’s and the mother of Bashar.
While pleading throughout the video, Makhlouf remained defiant. “Is this how you let others behave? Do you say Rami, either give in, or we’ll arrest all your people?” he said, “You are our guarantee, you are our security valve.”