Business tycoon says Syrian regime struck secret deal with Israel

Firas Tlass, son of former defense minister Mustafa Tlass , spoke to Al Arabiya on the alleged deal. (Image courtesy: The Telegraph)

A Syrian business tycoon who opposes Bashar al-Assad’s regime has said that the government has sealed economic and political deals with Israel which allow for the direct transfer of Syrian oil.

Firas Tlass, son of former defense minister Mustafa Tlass ,spoke to Al Arabiya and linked the aforementioned deal to the “suicide” of former prime minister Mahmoud al-Zuabi - whom some claim was killed because he threatened to reveal the secret agreement.

Tlass added that he did not reveal this information at the time because he was afraid he would be murdered or forced to kill himself like Zuabi.

Zuabi served as Syria’s prime minister from November 1, 1987 until March 7, 2000 under Hafez al-Assad’s rule.

In May 2000, Assad expelled Zuabi from the Baath Party, Syria’s ruling party, following a scandal related to the French aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

While he was under house arrest in May 2000, he reportedly committed suicide by gunshot.

Assad ruled Syria like a farm

Tlass also accused the Syrian regime of running Syria like a farm saying: “We were (members) of this farm’s guards.”

He added that Mustafa Tlass, his father, was a “complete partner” of the regime at the beginning during the days of Hafez al-Assad.

“My father was an important part of the regime (back then) and therefore he bears responsibility for that period of time,” he also said, adding, however that his father’s partnership with the regime ended during the reign of Bashar al-Assad.

Commenting on a statement attributed to him by a British daily, in which he seems to claim that he wants to put his fortune under the control of the Free Syrian Army, Tlass clarified that what he said was that after the revolution wins, he will transfer the property of his company to another company registered with his late mother’s name. According to him this will be done so the revenues will be spent on developing Syria’s society.

Tlass also acknowledged that his fortune would not have been so large if it had not been for the strong ties between his family and the Syrian regime, adding, however, that the initial stages of making that fortune had nothing to do with the regime.

“Yes. I made use of my father’s name who was defense minister and of his relations both inside and outside Syria.”

He added that exploiting his father’s name falls within corruption on the global level but is considered to be of “little corruption” on the Arab and Syrian level.


Relations with Rami Makhlouf

Tlass also denied there are any relations between him and wealthy businessman and Assad’s maternal cousin Rami Makhlouf.

He added that it was Rami’s father, and not Rami himself, who monopolized 60 to 80 percent of the Syrian economy represented by oil, tobacco, alcohol, telecommunications and electricity and that Rami worked in the field of industry.

On whether Bashar’s regime is an extension of his father’s Hafez, Tlass said it was not.

“Bashar has killed 120,000 Syrians whilst Hafez killed around 30,000 in Hama. (looking at it this way,) Hafez al-Assad looks (peaceful) when compared with his son (Bashar).”

He also said that the struggle in the 80’s between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood was over authority. “The regime however was criminally destructive,” he added.

Tlass added that the National Coalition and the National Council do not represent the Syrian revolution but the rebels and the people inside Syria are the ones who do.

“Until now no one has been able to achieve the aspirations of the revolution,” he claims.

 The full  interview will be broadcast Friday on Al Arabiya.

Last Update: Thursday, 07 March 2013 KSA 14:45 - GMT 11:45