Middle East

US State Department Sizes Up Assad Family's Known Wealth

May 6, 2022
Dana Saqbani
5 min read
The total amount of capital available to the Assad family was estimated by the US State Department to be $1-2billion
The total amount of capital available to the Assad family was estimated by the US State Department to be $1-2billion
Rami Makhlouf, Bashar al-Assad's maternal cousin, was considered one of the richest and most powerful men in Syria with a personal fortune of $5-10bn before his house arrest in 2020
Rami Makhlouf, Bashar al-Assad's maternal cousin, was considered one of the richest and most powerful men in Syria with a personal fortune of $5-10bn before his house arrest in 2020
Maher al-Assad, the president's brother, is commander of the Fourth Division of the Syrian Army, which is believed to be heavily involved in illegal drug smuggling
Maher al-Assad, the president's brother, is commander of the Fourth Division of the Syrian Army, which is believed to be heavily involved in illegal drug smuggling
Rifaat al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad's paternal uncle, returned from exile last year. He was thought to be worth $850m before most of his assets were confiscated in Europe
Rifaat al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad's paternal uncle, returned from exile last year. He was thought to be worth $850m before most of his assets were confiscated in Europe

At the end of April the US State Department published a report by Congress that revealed the net worth, as American officials understand it, of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and eight of his family members. The report estimated the Assad family net worth to be US$1 to 2 billion.

The report remains incomplete because the State Department believes Al-Assad and his family own assets, accounts, real estate, and companies with false names, believed to be outside Syria, in order to obscure ownership and evade sanctions.

The report took in the known wealth and assets of nine individuals: Bashar al-Assad,  his wife Asma, his brother Maher, his sister Bushra, his cosins Rami and Ihab Makhlouf, his uncle Rifaat, and his cousins Dhu al-Himma and Riad Shalish. The family’s personal holdings have been blighted by US sanctions. In late 2019 Donald Trump signed the "Caesar Act", which saw a crushing new sanctions regime hamper almost all segments of the economy in regime-controlled parts of Syria.

 

Bashar and Asma al-Assad

According to reports by NGOs and independent media, Bashar al-Assad and Asma have a stake in a large part of the known wealth in Syria. The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Bashar al-Assad under Executive Order 13573 on May 18, 2011, and Asma Assad under E.O. 13894 on June 17 as sanctioned individuals, because they used their business concerns to “launder money from illicit activities and funnel funds to the regime.”

According to the report, Asma exerts great influence over the economic committee that manages the ongoing economic crisis, which takes decisions regarding food, fuel subsidies, trade, and currency issues.

Asma also recently expanded her presence in the non-profit and telecommunications sectors through the Syria Trust for Development Foundation, which was established in 2001 and finances charitable and humanitarian initiatives. In 2019, OFAC states, Asma took control of the al-Bustan Charity from Bashar al-Assad’s maternal cousin Rami Makhlouf, and in the same year she founded the telecommunications company Emma Tel with Syrian businessman Khodr Ali Taher. Her cousin Muhannad and brother Firas also run Takamol Company, which operates the smart card system used by Syrians to access subsidized food.

 

Maher Al-Assad

Maher al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s brother, is the commander of the Fourth Division in the Syrian Army. The United States imposed sanctions on Maher and the Fourth Division under Executive Order 13894 in June 2020 for his involvement in violations of human rights in Syria from 2011 onward.

Reports indicate the Fourth Division is widely involved in drug smuggling operations in Syria, such as amphetamine, captagon and other illicit substances. Maher al-Assad also does business with Mohamed Saber Hamsho, a construction, communications, engineering, tourism, and IT sector business magnate. In 2011, OFAC imposed sanctions on Hamsho under Executive Order No. 13573 and 13572 for providing services that supported Bashar al-Assad.

Maher also has investment relations with the Al-Qaterji family, whose companies and militias manage oil wells in Syrian regime-controlled areas and facilitate oil trade between the regime and ISIS with the help of Khodr Ali Taher, the aforementioned businessman who also works as a mediator and contractor for the Fourth Division.

 

Bushra Al-Assad

Bushra al-Assad is Bashar al-Assad’s eldest sister and the widow of Assef Shawkat, former  deputy chief of staff of the Armed Forces and head of Syrian military intelligence. Bushra has lived with her children in Dubai since 2012. The report did not find reliable information on her net worth.

 

Rami Makhlouf

Rami is Bashar al-Assad’s maternal cousin and considered one of the richest and most powerful figures in Syria. He was designated by the US in 2008 for benefitting from and aiding corruption on the part of regime officials.

In 2020, Makhlouf had a public fallout with Bashar al-Assad, and he was placed under house arrest in Latakia. Open-source estimates put Makhlouf’s personal net worth at $5 to 10bn, much of which is understood to have since been put into state receivership.

 

Ihab Makhlouf

Ihab is Rami's younger brother and a cousin of Bashar al-Assad. The US sanctioned both him and his brother Iyad in 2017 for providing financial, technological, and material support to Rami Makhlouf. Ihab's role grew after his brother’s dispute with Bashar al-Assad, after which the government granted him a monopoly over duty-free markets.

Ihab Makhlouf has investments in the banking and financial services sectors, and he owns and operates more than 200 currency exchange offices in Damascus alone.

 

Rifaat al-Assad

Rifaat is the paternal uncle of Bashar al-Assad. He was banished from Syria in 1984 following a failed military coup and returned to the country in 2021.

In 2017, the Spanish government had confiscated Rifaat’s assets after he was named in a European money laundering investigation. In 2020 a French court sentenced him to four years in prison for money laundering, aggravated tax fraud and embezzlement, and confiscated his properties and accounts in London and Paris.

Rifaat's total net worth was estimated at $850 million dollars before the confiscations.

 

Dhu al-Himma Shalish and Riad Shalish

Dhu al-Himma Shalish, also known as Zuhair Shalish, is the paternal cousin of Bashar al-Assad. He served as commander of the Presidential Guard from 1994 until 2019, when he was placed under house arrest on suspicion of embezzlement.

In 2005, OFAC designated him under Executive Order 13315 for his purchase of weapons for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The Treasury also sanctioned his company, SES International Corp.

Riad Shalish, Bashar al-Assad’s paternal cousin, was the director of the Military Housing Establishment, a government public works company, which was placed under sanctions by the United States in 2011 pursuant to Executive Order No. 13582.

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