Scope and Methodology
In this report, the Department of State examines the finances of: (1) Bashar Assad and his wife Asma Akhras Assad; (2) Bashar’s brother Maher Assad; (3) Bashar’s sister Bushra Assad; (4) Bashar’s maternal cousins Rami and Ihab Makhlouf; (5) Bashar’s paternal uncle Rifaat Assad; and (6) Bashar’s paternal cousins Dhu al-Himma and Riad Shalish. We do not have sufficient information on the net worth of Bashar Assad’s three children Hafez (20), Zayn (18), and Karim (17), so we have not included figures for them.
For more on the Assad family’s net worth, please refer to the classified annex to this report.
Estimates based on open-source information generally put the Assad family net worth at between $1-2 billion, but this is an inexact estimate which the Department is unable to independently corroborate. The difficulty in accurately estimating the net worth of Assad and his extended family members results from family assets that are believed to be spread out and concealed in numerous accounts, real estate portfolios, corporations, and offshore tax havens. Any assets located outside of Syria and not seized or blocked are likely held under false names or by other individuals, to obscure ownership and evade sanctions. Per non-governmental organization and media reporting, the Assad family runs a complex patronage system including shell companies and corporate facades that serves as a tool for the regime to access financial resources via seemingly legitimate corporate structures and non-profit entities, and launder money acquired from illicit economic activities including smuggling, arms trading, drug trafficking, and protection and extortion rackets.
Bashar and Asma Assad
NGO reporting and media sources assess that Bashar and Asma Assad exert significant influence over much of Syria’s wealth. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Bashar Assad under Executive Order (E.O.) 13573 on May 18, 2011, and Asma Assad under E.O. 13894 on June 17, 2020. The Assads maintain close patronage relationships with Syria’s largest economic players, using their companies to launder money from illicit activities and funnel funds to the regime. These networks penetrate all sectors of the Syrian economy.
Asma Assad has cultivated a network that exerts increasing influence over Syria’s economy. She exerts significant influence over the economic committee that manages Syria’s ongoing economic crisis. According to open-source reporting, this committee makes decisions regarding food and fuel subsidies, trade, and currency issues. Asma has expanded her influence in the non-profit and telecommunications sectors in recent years. Asma reportedly continues to exert influence over the Syria Trust for Development, which she founded in 2001, and directs funding to charity and humanitarian initiatives in regime areas in Syria.
In 2019, she also reportedly took control of the Al Bustan Charity from Bashar Assad’s maternal cousin Rami Makhlouf. In 2021, Presidential Palace officials close to Asma reportedly were appointed to the board of Syriatel, Syria’s largest telecom company, which Makhlouf owned until the government seized it in 2020. In 2019, Asma also established telecommunications company Emma Tel with Syrian businessman Khodr Taher Bin Ali (Khodr Ali Taher). OFAC designated Khodr Ali Taher on September 30, 2020 under E.O. 13582 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for the Government of Syria. Emma Tel was also sanctioned.
Asma Assad’s cousin Muhannad Dabbagh and brother Firas al-Akhras run Takamol Company, which manages the electronic SmartCard program used for subsidized food distribution in Syria, according to open-source reporting. Firas al-Akhras was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of State on December 22, 2020, under E.O. 13894, with the Secretary’s statement about the announcement noting the Assad and Akhras families “have accumulated their ill-gotten riches at the expense of the Syrian people through their control over an extensive, illicit network with links in Europe, the Gulf, and elsewhere.”
Maher Assad, the brother of Bashar Assad, is the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, through which he acts as the head of a patronage network involved in illicit activities. Maher Assad and the Fourth Division were sanctioned under E.O. 13894 in June of 2020 by the U.S. government for providing support to the Assad regime and for his involvement in human rights abuses in Syria in 2011. Maher’s network also profits from businesses in the communications, IT, engineering, energy, and tourism sectors. For more information on Maher Assad’s wealth, please refer to the classified annex to this report.
The Fourth Armored Division is widely reported to be involved in Syrian drug smuggling operations, including smuggling of the amphetamine captagon as well as other illicit substances. NGO and media outlets allege the Fourth Armored Division also collects fees from traffic passing through official and unofficial Syrian checkpoints under its control, and charges protection and royalty fees for commercial transports.
Maher Assad has a close business relationship with Mohamed Saber Hamsho, who operates businesses in the construction, communication, IT, engineering, and tourism sectors. OFAC designated Hamsho in 2011 pursuant to E.O. 13573 and E.O. 13572 for providing services in support of, and for acting for or on behalf of, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Maher Assad. Hamsho is one of Syria’s top businessmen and has interests in nearly every sector of the Syrian economy. He has served as a frontman for Maher Assad and a number of his businesses.
Maher Assad also has investments in the contracting, energy, and IT sectors through the Telsa investment group. Other close relationships include the Qaterji family, whose companies and militia manage oil wells in regime areas and in the past facilitated fuel trade between the regime and ISIS, and Khodr Ali Taher, who organizes protection and collects royalties from commercial activities as a prominent local intermediary and contractor for the Fourth Armored Division. OFAC designated Muhammad Qaterji and the Qaterji Company in 2018 pursuant to E.O 13582 for facilitating fuel trade between the regime and ISIS. OFAC also designated Muhammad’s brother Hussam pursuant to E.O. 13573 and the brothers’ company, Arfada Petroleum Private Joint Stock Company, under the Caesar Act in 2020. In 2020, OFAC designated Khodr Ali Taher’s company Castle Security and Protection LLC for its participation in the Fourth Division’s illicit activities, that included being responsible for providing convoy protection at Fourth Division checkpoints. Taher was also chosen to direct the collection of fees at checkpoints and internal crossings between regime and opposition areas, as well as crossings with Lebanon.
Bushra Assad is Bashar and Maher Assad’s older sister, and widow of Assef Shawkat, the deputy chief of staff of the Syrian Armed Forces and former head of the Syrian Military Intelligence. The U.S. Department of State designated Bushra Assad under E.O. 13894 on June 17, 2020. Bushra and her children have reportedly lived in Dubai since 2012, following a dispute with Bashar over his handling of the conflict. We do not have reliable information on Bushra’s net worth.
Rami Makhlouf is the son of Mohammad Makhlouf, maternal uncle to Bashar Assad. Rami Makhlouf is considered one of Syria’s richest and most powerful men and at one time controlled a large share of the Syrian economy. Makhlouf was designated by the U.S. government in 2008 for benefitting from and aiding the public corruption of Syrian regime officials. Makhlouf fell out publicly with Assad in the spring of 2020, and was reportedly placed under house arrest in Latakia, after which, Syrian authorities reportedly placed many of his business interests into state receivership. Open-source estimates of Makhlouf’s wealth range between $5-10 billion.
Rami was previously a majority owner of Syriatel Mobile Telecom. OFAC designated Syriatel pursuant to E.O. 13460 in 2008. In 2016, his shares were worth more than $130 million. In June 2020, the Damascus Securities Exchange indefinitely suspended trading of Syriatel shares. Media reported that in early 2020, Syria Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (STRA) demanded $180 million in back taxes from Syriatel. Syriatel disputed STRA’s claims, and on June 4, 2020, the agency put a “precautionary hold” on Makhlouf’s assets as a “guarantee of repayment.” In July 2021, media reported that Makhlouf was removed from Syriatel’s board.
Rami Makhlouf owned a 50 percent stake in Cham Holding, the largest Syrian holding company. OFAC designated Cham Holding and other Makhlouf-owned companies in 2011. In 2020, the Syrian government accused Makhlouf of embezzling money through shell accounts abroad. Makhlouf responded by asserting that transfers of funds were a tool to evade sanctions against Cham Holding. A Syrian court subsequently appointed Hakim Nasser Mahfoud as a court supervisor of the company.
Makhlouf had exclusive contracts to run duty-free markets in Syria until 2020, when the Assad regime abrogated the contracts, accusing him of using the businesses to “smuggle goods and money.” The regime transferred the contracts to Rami’s younger sibling Ihab Makhlouf. Rami Makhlouf also ran charitable organization Al Bustan Charity, which claimed to support families of regime loyalists killed in the war, but according to open-source reporting was a conduit for funding private militias. Asma Assad took control of Al Bustan Charity in 2019, according to media.
Please refer to the classified annex to this report for more information on Rami Makhlouf.
Ihab Makhlouf is the younger brother of Rami Makhlouf and maternal cousin of Bashar Assad. Ihab and his brother Iyad were sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2017 for providing financial, technological, and material support to Rami Makhlouf. After the fallout between Rami Makhlouf and Bashar Assad, Ihab’s role in managing Makhlouf family assets grew when the Syrian government granted him monopoly rights to duty-free markets. Ihab stepped down from his role as Vice Chairman of Syriatel in May 2020, declaring support for Bashar Assad and blaming his brother Rami for the company’s troubles. Ihab has investments in the financial services and banking sectors and operates over 200 currency exchange offices in Damascus.
Rifaat Assad is the paternal uncle of Bashar Assad, who left Syria after a failed attempt to take power in 1984. He retained a large business portfolio in Syria until 1999, when he was formally expelled from Syria after violent clashes in Latakia between his supporters and those of his brother Hafez. In 2017, the Spanish government seized Rifaat’s Spanish assets after he was named in a European money laundering investigation. In June 2020, a French court sentenced Rifaat to four years in prison for organized money laundering, aggravated tax fraud, and embezzlement of Syrian funds, and seized his properties and accounts in Paris and London. Prior to the seizure, Rifaat’s total real estate portfolio was estimated at $850 million. Rifaat returned to Syria in October 2021 to avoid imprisonment.
Dhu al-Himma Shalish and Riad Shalish
Dhu al-Himma Shalish (aka Zuhayr Shalish) and Riad Shalish are paternal cousins of Bashar Assad. Dhu al-Himma Shalish served as the commander of the Assad regime’s Presidential Guard from 1994 until 2019 when Syrian authorities placed Dhu al-Himma under house arrest under suspicion of embezzlement. In 2005, OFAC designated Dhu al-Himma under E.O. 13315 for procuring defense-related goods for Saddam Hussein and his regime. The Treasury Department also designated his company SES International Corp, a large Syrian conglomerate with interests in the construction and automobile import sectors. Riad was a longtime director of the Military Housing Establishment, a government-run public works company. The Military Housing Establishment was designated by the U.S. government in 2011 under E.O. 13582. Media estimate the net worth of the Shalish family at more than $1 billion, stemming from both their business interests and illicit smuggling and money laundering activities.