Sanctions-hit Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf on Sunday said that security forces were arresting employees at his diversified companies in what he said was “mounting pressure” on him days after Syrian authorities asked him to pay hefty taxes.
Makhlouf, a maternal cousin of President Bashar al-Assad and widely considered part of the president’s inner circle, has a business empire that ranges from telecoms and real estate to construction and oil trading. He played a big role in financing Assad’s war effort, Western officials have said.
“Today pressures began in an unacceptable ways and the security forces, in an inhumane way, are arresting our employees,” Makhlouf said in a video. The security forces did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Addressing Assad in the video, Makhlouf said he had been asked to step down from the companies he runs, including Syriatel, the country’s main mobile operator and main source of revenue for the sanctions-hit government.
“Did anyone expect the security forces would pounce on Rami Makhlouf’s companies who were their biggest supporters and their patron during the war?” Makhlouf said. The billionaire has been under U.S. sanctions since 2008 for what Washington calls public corruption and it has since toughened measures against top businessmen who are close to him.
The European Union has also slapped sanctions on Makhlouf since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, accusing him of bankrolling Assad. He became a hated figure to many pro-democracy protesters who rose up against corruption and the authoritarian rule of Assad in March 2011.