Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf names son Ali heir to telecom not playboy Dubai-based son

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An unverified document reportedly leaked by Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf to social media and Syrian media revealed that his second son Ali, 20, has been named deputy CEO of telecom company Syriatel. If confirmed, the new appointment appears to sideline Makhlouf’s eldest son Mohammed, 23, who is known for flaunting his extravagant lifestyle in Dubai on social media.

Makhlouf, the main owner of Syriatel, is Assad’s first cousin and a key member of the regime’s inner circle. Despite being under international sanctions since 2008, he is viewed as Syria’s most powerful businessman, whose activities are fundamental to the regime’s economic structure.

Syriatel’s letter, which is dated May 16, 2020, states that Ihab Makhlouf, who is Rami’s brother, resigned from his position as the company’s deputy chairman on 14 May, and that Ali Makhlouf will replace him. Makhlouf confirmed his brother’s resignation in a Facebook post earlier this week, and he has not yet denied the claim that younger son will now head the company.

Read more: Rami Makhlouf’s spat with Syrian regime over Syriatel deepens in document dispute

A source close to Rami Makhlouf’s circles has said that the tycoon is taking distance from his elder son Mohammed, whose lavish displays of wealth – while Syrians are starving – have drawn criticism from the media and the public. In the past, Mohammed has published images of his vintage and sports car collection, as well flaunting his jet-set parties in Mykonos, Moscow and Dubai.

Ali, meanwhile, is said to have forged a closer relationship with his father.

The source added that Makhlouf, who was evoked in the 2011 anti-government protests as a “thief,” has recently cultivated a more spiritual image of himself to his peers. His video addresses to Assad and other Facebook posts often include Quranic verse recitals and references to the helping the poor during Ramadan.

The move comes as Makhlouf battles government measures to seize his assets, which includes slapping $244.3 million and $254 million tax fraud charges on Syriatel, and attempts to force him to resign. In an ongoing online spat with Makhlouf, the telecom authorities have accused the businessman of “refusing” to pay money and employing “deceit” to avoid “paying the public treasury.”

Read more: Syria tycoon Rami Makhlouf refuses to step down from Syriatel, criticizes arrests

Makhlouf has responded to these measures with a series of unprecedented public addresses to Assad, in which he stated that the measures against him would be a “catastrophe for the Syrian economy.” These were published as live video recordings on Makhlouf’s official Facebook page.

Makhlouf’s family pedigree allows him to command influence in Syria’s Alawite community, a religious sect that is loyal to Assad. His charities have been used to fund brutal Alawite militias and make payments to the families of fallen soldiers.

And as Syria faces bankruptcy and its citizens are plagued by food shortages, Assad’s government appears to be publicly competing with Makhlouf to leverage influence within the community.

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