Syrian regime evades sanctions via shell companies: report

Official documents seen by The Guardian have revealed how the Assad regime is using front companies to avoid sanctions.

At least three shell companies were created in a single day, to avoid sanctions [Getty]

The Syrian regime engages in clandestine business practices aimed at helping Assad avoid international sanctions, according to documents seen by The Guardian.

They show that front companies have been created – at least three in a single day – whose sole purpose is to buy shares in other companies and manage their affairs.

Such practices allow sanctioned persons to circumvent and avoid international sanctions.

The owners of the shell companies have direct ties to Bashar al-Assad and other Syrian regime figures who have been sanctioned for their involvement in crimes against civilians.

The Syrian regime has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in its brutal crackdown on a pro-democracy movement that erupted in 2011. It has also detained more than 100,000 people since the start of the 2011 uprising and many suspected deaths in following torture and ill-treatment.

The documents show that in October 2021, three companies were created: Trappist, Generous and Super Brandy. The three companies are jointly owned by people closely linked to the regime.

The three companies are jointly owned by Rana Ahmad Khalil, Rita Ahmad Khalil and Ali Najib Ibrahim.

Ali Najib Ibrahim is also co-owner of Tele Space, along with Ahmad Khalil Khalil, Rana and Rita’s father. Tele Space is also a co-owner of Wafa JSC, which secured lucrative licenses to become Syria’s third-largest telecom operator.

Another co-owner of Wafa JSC is Yasar Hussein Ibrahim, who acts as an adviser to Assad and heads the economic and financial office of the presidency. It has been sanctioned by the United States and the United Kingdom.

Ahmad Khalil Khalil also owns a share of Sanad’s protection and security services, along with Nasser Deeb Deeb.

Sanad’s protection and security services oversee and protect Russian phosphate shipments from mines in central Syria to the port of Tartous.

Deeb, in turn, co-owns Ella Services with Khodr Ali Taher. Both men are sanctioned by the United States.

This complex network of shell companies, owners and co-owners is designed to cover its tracks and avoid and evade international sanctions, a practice in which the Syrian regime has become adept.

Syrian Economy Minister Muhammad Samer Al-Khalil urged foreign investors to return to Syria last October, claiming that “evading sanctions has become a Syrian profession”.

Khalil explained that those who trade in the heavily sanctioned country “will not appear under their real names in the local market”.

The revelation that Syrian front companies are being used to evade sanctions has undermined the actions of Western powers, like the United States, which seek to curb and punish the actions of the Assad regime.

“New [Biden] the administration’s sanctions have been very limited and, in a way, they don’t have the appetite that was in the previous administration to impose sanctions on individuals in Syria,” said Eyad Hamid, senior researcher to the Syrian Legal Development Programme. The Guardian.

“There needs to be more investment, investigation and sources on the ground to track these changes in the Syrian business scene, because it’s not a stable environment, it keeps changing.”

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