Jerusalem: A cousin of Bashar al-Assad has issued a grovelling and unprecedented appeal to the Syrian dictator for help in paying off a multimillion-dollar debt, in the latest sign of a bitter feud in the ruling family.
Rami Makhlouf, one of Syria’s wealthiest businessmen, published the direct video appeal on Facebook after being saddled with huge debts and fines by the regime, which is struggling to reimburse its key ally Russia for military and economic support.
It is the first time a regime loyalist has made such a public plea to the President, and suggests Makhlouf has been frozen out of the inner circle since being accused of tax evasion and ordered to pay around 130 billion Syrian pounds ($393 million) in fines. The US also suspects Makhlouf was involved in a plot to smuggle oil into Syria, in breach of international sanctions.
In the video, Makhlouf denies tax evasion, and suggests he is struggling to keep his businesses afloat as a result of the fines. “We are ready to pay, but don’t have the cash ready to go, so we ask you, the state, to find a proper mechanism for us to pay without damaging the company,” he says. Syrian analysts speculated that the move was likely to anger Assad, and may lead to Makhlouf – who at one point was estimated to control 60 per cent of the country’s wealth but is now under house arrest in Syria – disappearing. It also exposes the regime’s dire economic state as it struggles to pay off huge debts to Russia, estimated at around $US3 billion ($4.6 billion).