Meet Syria's wealthiest and most elusive man
Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of the Syrian president, is also by all accounts the country's richest man.
March 7th, 2012
01:00 AM ET

Meet Syria's wealthiest and most elusive man

By Tim Lister and Jamie Crawford

Imagine controlling Syria's equivalent of Verizon, its duty-free stores, a chunk of its oil industry, a TV network and its choicest property developments. Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of President Bashar al Assad, did - and maybe still does. He is by all accounts the richest man in Syria, worth some $5 billion before the Syrian economy entered what U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford calls its "sharp downward spiral."

The Makhlouf family is one of a business elite that has done exceptionally well during the Assad dynasty. And its spectacular enrichment has fed resentment among ordinary Syrians.

"It's not a question right now of Alawites versus Sunnis," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman told a Senate hearing Thursday. "It's a question of the Assad-Makhlouf mafia that has basically hijacked the entire state of Syria for four decades in order to enrich itself and protect itself against the Syrian people."

At a tearful news conference in June, Makhlouf announced he was giving up his business interests and investing the proceeds in charities to help victims of the unrest. He said then the gesture was because he was "so keen on preserving the nation, its land, its people and its leadership."

Few believed him. One Syrian critic blogged: "As for Santa Claus Makhlouf, who is showering us with his deeds, could he explain to us where did he bring his first millions from?"

In a rare interview the previous month, Makhlouf had told The New York Times that the regime would "fight until the end." Of its opponents, he said: "They should know when we suffer, we will not suffer alone."

The evidence of Makhlouf's promised philanthropy is yet to materialize - and to the Syrian opposition, he is still part of the "Assad-Makhlouf mafia." Protesters have attacked offices of Syria's mobile phone company, Syriatel, of which Makhlouf held at least 40% via a company he owned in the British Virgin Islands.

Some analysts believe he is helping prop up the Syrian Central Bank, whose foreign exchange reserves have withered under the impact of sanctions and the sharp devaluation of the Syrian pound.

"The rumor is that the Makhlouf family has been aiding the Assad regime through its financial resources to weather some of the negative effects of the uprising," says Aram Nerguizian, a Syria specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But of the man himself, there has been no sign since that June news conference.

The Makhloufs, an Alawite family as are the Assads, rose to prominence through the marriage of Anisa Makhlouf to the current president's father, Hafez Assad. She is still alive and regarded as an influential figure within the ruling elite. One of Makhlouf's brothers, Hafez, is prominent in the State Security Service.

Other families close to the regime have also profited from the Assad dynasty, often being called "abna al-sulta," Arabic for "sons of power." They have been awarded licenses as import agents and the lion's share of government contracts.

"They took on key parts of the economy as points of entry," says Nerguizian. "They don't really have a productive capability, they don't really re-inject capital. ... They are better known for hoarding their capital gains and not redistributing them."

Nerguizian says Bashar al-Assad's father had always ensured wealth was distributed from the merchant class to ordinary rural Syrians, but the son had made a crucial mistake in favoring the elites of Damascus and Aleppo. "And it's coming back to haunt them because it's one of the main points of contention that led to the cycle of uprisings in 2011," says Nerguizian.

Rami Makhlouf has long attracted the interest of the U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. In 2008, he was designated by the Treasury "for improperly benefiting from and aiding the public corruption of Syrian regime officials."

That move came 10 days after Saad Hariri, now leader of Lebanon's opposition Future Bloc, met U.S. diplomats in Beirut and alleged that Makhlouf had assisted al-Assad in moving funds to Dubai, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.

The Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control subsequently designated Syriatel and another company, Ramak, in which he had a controlling interest. The effect of designation is to ban any U.S. entity from doing business with the sanctioned companies.

Last year, it designated three more companies linked to Makhlouf, saying it had "reason to believe that Rami Makhlouf is dissociating himself (in name only) from his businesses and looking to safely store his wealth outside of Syria." The European Union has taken similar measures.

One of those companies, Cham Holding, held 65% of a joint venture with the British oil exploration company Gulfsands Petroleum. And through a company called al-Mashrek, Makhlouf owns nearly 6% of Gulfsands' shares. Gulfsands disclosed in August that it had suspended all payments to Makhlouf interests and suspended their voting rights.

Nerguizian says that unless al-Assad manages to suppress the unrest, the future for Makhlouf looks gloomy. The opposition, inside and outside Syria, "have made it very clear they are not looking to negotiate," he says.

"They're not looking for the kinds of political concessions that would allow elements like the Makhloufs to remain - let alone dominate in a political structure," he says.

Post by: ,
Filed under: Assad • Sanctions • State Department • Syria
soundoff (1,128 Responses)
  1. RV Repair Seal Beach

    June 29, 2021 at 9:18 am | Reply
  2. RV Repair Shops Nearby

    June 29, 2021 at 8:36 am | Reply
  3. Sprinter Repair Near Me

    June 29, 2021 at 8:29 am | Reply
  4. Slot online

    I must thank you for the efforts you've put in writing this site.
    I am hoping to check out the same high-grade blog posts from you
    in the future as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has motivated
    me to get my own website now 😉

    June 29, 2021 at 7:50 am | Reply
  5. Chevrolet Cargo Van Repair Shop

    June 29, 2021 at 5:02 am | Reply
  6. Camper Repair Near Me

    June 29, 2021 at 3:53 am | Reply
  7. Pasquale Bernabe

    The only distinction lies in the type of five-card poker hand you're aiming to make to get pots, higher, reduced, or either. It's best to try and make this as conversational as possible. Quickly there had been only 6 players still left.

    June 28, 2021 at 11:57 pm | Reply
  8. RV Repair Shops Near Me

    June 28, 2021 at 11:52 pm | Reply
  9. RV Repair Near Me

    June 28, 2021 at 11:46 pm | Reply
  10. Ford Luxury Van Repair Shop

    June 28, 2021 at 9:36 pm | Reply
  11. 25รับ100

    I quite like reading an article that will make people think.
    Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!

    June 28, 2021 at 7:49 pm | Reply
  12. RV Repair Near Me Now

    Pretty! This was a really wonderful article. Thanks for providing these details.

    June 28, 2021 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  13. friv games

    I have been exploring for a little for any high quality articles or
    weblog posts in this sort of house . Exploring in Yahoo I ultimately stumbled
    upon this site. Reading this info So i am happy to show that I've an incredibly excellent uncanny feeling I found out just what
    I needed. I such a lot indubitably will make sure
    to do not forget this site and provides it a glance on a
    relentless basis.

    Here is my blog friv games

    June 28, 2021 at 7:14 pm | Reply
  14. เว็บเล่นสล็อต

    สล็อตออนไลน์ UFA168WIN เว็บพนันออนไลน์
    เล่นสล็อตออนไลน์ ทุกค่าย วันนี้นักพนันออนไลน์หาได้ไม่ยากอีกต่อไป เพียงสมัครเป็นสมาชิกกับเว็บพนันออนไลน์อันดับ 1 ของเอเชียอย่างเว็บ ufa168win ก็สามารถใช้บริการได้ตลอดชีพ พร้อมด้วยเครื่องมือการทำกำไรผ่านเกมพนันประเภทอื่นๆ อย่างครบครันไม่ว่าจะเป็นคาสิโนออนไลน์ เดิมพันกีฬาออนไลน์และแทงหวยออนไลน์เราก็มีบริการตลอด 24 ชั่วโมงในทุกวันเว็บเล่นสล็อต

    June 28, 2021 at 4:45 pm | Reply
  15. Sprinter Rv Repair Near Here

    Itís hard to find experienced people for this topic, but you sound like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks

    June 28, 2021 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  16. RV Repair

    That is a great tip especially to those new to the blogosphere. Short but very accurate infoÖ Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read post!

    June 28, 2021 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  17. RV Repair Mission Viejo

    June 28, 2021 at 1:40 pm | Reply
  18. RV Repairs Nearby

    This web site really has all the information and facts I wanted about this subject and didnít know who to ask.

    June 28, 2021 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  19. Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me

    June 28, 2021 at 1:06 am | Reply
  20. Gmc Cargo Van Repair Shop

    June 27, 2021 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  21. Maintenance Shop Near Me

    June 27, 2021 at 7:29 pm | Reply
  22. 2016 Sprinter Repair Shops

    Very good article. I certainly love this website. Continue the good work!

    June 27, 2021 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  23. RV Repair California

    June 27, 2021 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  24. RV Repair Orange County

    June 27, 2021 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  25. Rv Paint Shop

    Spot on with this write-up, I truly believe this website needs a lot more attention. Iíll probably be returning to read more, thanks for the advice!

    June 27, 2021 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  26. The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership

    Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Thanks, However I am encountering difficulties with your RSS. I donít understand the reason why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting the same RSS problems? Anybody who knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

    June 27, 2021 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  27. Army Definition Of Leadership

    Good post. I am dealing with a few of these issues as well..

    June 27, 2021 at 11:22 am | Reply
  28. steve deace podcast

    Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article. Many thanks for supplying this info.

    June 27, 2021 at 10:51 am | Reply
  29. Leadership Essay

    I blog often and I truly appreciate your content. Your article has really peaked my interest. I am going to take a note of your site and keep checking for new details about once a week. I subscribed to your RSS feed too.

    June 27, 2021 at 10:11 am | Reply
  30. history of english podcast

    Howdy! This article could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept talking about this. I'll send this post to him. Pretty sure he'll have a very good read. Many thanks for sharing!

    June 27, 2021 at 9:55 am | Reply
  31. lars larson podcast

    June 27, 2021 at 9:11 am | Reply
  32. Opera & music

    I'm gone to inform my little brother, that he should also visit this
    webpage on regular basis to get updated from most up-to-date information.

    June 27, 2021 at 6:28 am | Reply
  33. Strengths Based Leadership

    June 27, 2021 at 5:13 am | Reply
  34. whiskey ginger podcast

    June 27, 2021 at 2:56 am | Reply
  35. Hong Kong luxury goods

    Very good post. I am dealing with a few of these issues as well..

    June 26, 2021 at 10:20 pm | Reply
  36. craig groeschel leadership podcast

    Good day! I could have sworn Iíve visited this web site before but after browsing through a few of the posts I realized itís new to me. Nonetheless, Iím certainly delighted I stumbled upon it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back regularly!

    June 26, 2021 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  37. RV Trailer Repair Near Me

    After I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is an easy method you are able to remove me from that service? Appreciate it!

    June 26, 2021 at 10:22 am | Reply
  38. Tristan Leiding

    I quite like reading through an article that will make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing for me to comment!

    June 26, 2021 at 9:26 am | Reply
  39. RV Appliance Repair Near Me

    Saved as a favorite, I really like your site!

    June 26, 2021 at 8:06 am | Reply
  40. Lera Cassio

    June 26, 2021 at 7:13 am | Reply
  41. RV Repair Fountain Valley

    There is definately a lot to find out about this issue. I really like all the points you have made.

    June 26, 2021 at 5:11 am | Reply
  42. Modesto Lagatella

    June 26, 2021 at 12:30 am | Reply
  43. Sprinter Repair Shop Near Me

    June 26, 2021 at 12:19 am | Reply
  44. Trinh Simmons

    June 25, 2021 at 11:23 pm | Reply
  45. RV Windshield Repair Near Me

    Hi! I could have sworn Iíve been to this blog before but after going through many of the articles I realized itís new to me. Regardless, Iím certainly pleased I discovered it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back often!


    June 25, 2021 at 10:34 pm | Reply
  46. RV Repair Around Me

    June 25, 2021 at 7:17 pm | Reply
  47. RV Repairs Near My Location

    June 25, 2021 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  48. RV Repair

    June 25, 2021 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  49. RV Repair Places Near Me

    I used to be able to find good info from your articles.

    June 25, 2021 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  50. RV Repair Huntington Beach

    An intriguing discussion is worth comment. I do believe that you should publish more about this subject matter, it may not be a taboo subject but usually folks don't discuss these topics. To the next! Kind regards!!

    June 25, 2021 at 3:11 pm | Reply
  51. RV Repair Garden Grove

    June 25, 2021 at 9:34 am | Reply
  52. RV Repair Fountain Valley

    June 25, 2021 at 6:16 am | Reply
  53. Sprinter Repair Near Me

    June 25, 2021 at 5:10 am | Reply
  54. Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me

    June 25, 2021 at 2:46 am | Reply
  55. RV Repair Shops Nearby

    A motivating discussion is worth comment. There's no doubt that that you need to write more on this issue, it might not be a taboo matter but usually people don't speak about such issues. To the next! All the best!!

    June 25, 2021 at 2:46 am | Reply
  56. RV Repair Santa Ana

    You have made some decent points there. I looked on the internet for more info about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this site.

    June 25, 2021 at 12:49 am | Reply
  57. rv parts san diego ca

    June 24, 2021 at 10:53 pm | Reply
  58. honda mesa

    We're a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.
    Your web site offered us with valuable info to work on. You have done a formidable job and our
    whole community will be grateful to you.

    June 24, 2021 at 9:05 pm | Reply
  59. RV Repair Shop Near My Location

    bookmarked!!, I like your website!

    June 24, 2021 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  60. RV Repair Near My Location

    I blog quite often and I seriously thank you for your content. Your article has truly peaked my interest. I'm going to bookmark your site and keep checking for new information about once per week. I subscribed to your Feed too.

    June 24, 2021 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  61. RV Repair Places Near Me

    Hello there! This blog post couldnít be written any better! Looking through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I'll forward this information to him. Fairly certain he'll have a great read. Thank you for sharing!

    June 24, 2021 at 3:24 pm | Reply
  62. Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me

    Your style is unique compared to other folks I have read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this blog.

    June 24, 2021 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  63. RV Awning Repair Near Me

    June 24, 2021 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  64. mbssecurities

    Well said! I found another one, more detailed in MBS Securities: All our Residential Security London teams are screened, vetted, qualified and experienced and supported by the latest technologies. Check below:
    #Securityguardcompanies, #NightGuarding, #ResidentialSecurityLondon, #ConstructionSecurityLondon, #MannedGuarding
    Residential Security London Residential Security London

    June 24, 2021 at 1:34 pm | Reply
  65. SEO Marketing Service

    This is a topic which is close to my heart... Cheers! Where are your contact details though?

    June 24, 2021 at 10:48 am | Reply
  66. Local Marketing Company

    June 24, 2021 at 7:28 am | Reply
  67. tractor supply near me

    June 24, 2021 at 6:58 am | Reply
  68. RV Repair Center Near Me

    Good information. Lucky me I recently found your blog by chance (stumbleupon). I've saved as a favorite for later!

    June 24, 2021 at 6:28 am | Reply
  69. RV Parts And Repair Near Me

    Everything is very open with a clear explanation of the challenges. It was really informative. Your website is very useful. Thanks for sharing!

    June 24, 2021 at 6:02 am | Reply
  70. Digital Marketing Specialists

    June 24, 2021 at 4:16 am | Reply
  71. Jenny

    I'd like to find out more? I'd love to find out some additional

    June 24, 2021 at 2:48 am | Reply
  72. Social Media Marketing Services Near Me

    June 24, 2021 at 12:04 am | Reply
  73. Camper RV Repair Near Me

    June 23, 2021 at 10:45 pm | Reply
  74. RV Body Repair Near Me

    June 23, 2021 at 9:09 pm | Reply
  75. RV Plumbing Repair Near Me

    June 23, 2021 at 7:17 pm | Reply
  76. RV Repair Shops Near My Location

    June 23, 2021 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  77. RV And Truck Repair Near Me

    There's certainly a lot to learn about this issue. I like all of the points you have made.

    June 23, 2021 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  78. hiking near me

    June 23, 2021 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  79. truck stop near me

    June 23, 2021 at 2:49 pm | Reply
  80. RV Repair Store Near Me

    June 23, 2021 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  81. yard sales near me

    June 23, 2021 at 2:29 pm | Reply
  82. Digital Marketing Consultant

    Hi! I just would like to give you a huge thumbs up for the great info you have right here on this post. I will be returning to your web site for more soon.

    June 23, 2021 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  83. RV Awning Repair Near Me

    Very good article! We will be linking to this great article on our site. Keep up the great writing.

    June 23, 2021 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  84. SEO Marketing Business

    Everyone loves it when people come together and share views. Great site, keep it up!

    June 23, 2021 at 9:24 am | Reply
  85. Social Media Marketing Company

    This website definitely has all the information and facts I wanted about this subject and didnít know who to ask.

    June 23, 2021 at 7:59 am | Reply
  86. SEO Marketing Firm

    June 23, 2021 at 5:19 am | Reply
  87. RV Service Repair Near Me

    Spot on with this write-up, I really think this site needs much more attention. Iíll probably be back again to read more, thanks for the information!

    June 23, 2021 at 3:45 am | Reply
  88. lowe post podcast

    June 23, 2021 at 12:11 am | Reply
  89. RV Furnace Repair Near Me

    June 23, 2021 at 12:09 am | Reply
  90. RV Repair Parts Near Me

    Good day! I just want to offer you a huge thumbs up for your great info you have here on this post. I'll be coming back to your website for more soon.

    June 22, 2021 at 7:24 pm | Reply
  91. RV Repair Places Near Me

    June 22, 2021 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  92. RV Mobile Repair Service Near Me

    Good information. Lucky me I discovered your website by chance (stumbleupon). I have bookmarked it for later!

    June 22, 2021 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  93. Sprinter Repair Near Me

    June 22, 2021 at 10:02 am | Reply
  94. RV Chassis Repair Near Me

    Great post! We are linking to this particularly great content on our site. Keep up the good writing.

    June 22, 2021 at 8:26 am | Reply
  95. fb88

    Hello there, You have done an incredible job. I'll definitely digg it and personally recommend
    to my friends. I'm confident they'll be benefited from this web site.

    June 22, 2021 at 7:35 am | Reply
  96. 2011 Mercedes Sprinter Rv Repair

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this post and the rest of the website is really good.

    June 22, 2021 at 7:29 am | Reply
  97. adhd group injury, <a href=

    June 22, 2021 at 7:05 am | Reply
  98. guidance training

    This website truly has all of the information and facts I wanted concerning this subject and didnít know who to ask.

    June 22, 2021 at 4:06 am | Reply
  99. RV Window Repair Near Me

    Good post. I learn something new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon every day. It will always be useful to read content from other writers and practice a little something from their sites.

    June 22, 2021 at 2:47 am | Reply
  100. Van Upgrades

    Excellent article. I am dealing with some of these issues as well..

    June 21, 2021 at 9:29 pm | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.