Assad cousins hit with sanctions over amphetamine trade that funds regime

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The US and UK have slapped sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s cousins for their alleged role in the manufacture and export of Captagon, a highly addictive amphetamine whose trade has become an economic lifeline for the regime.

The sanctions were imposed on Tuesday on four Syrians allegedly involved in the illegal trade, including the president’s cousins Samer Kamal and Wassim Badia al-Assad, as well as two Lebanese drug magnates.

The UK targeted five additional people, including militia leaders and businessmen, over their ties to the Captagon trade, which it estimated was worth $57bn in annual revenues to Damascus.

“Trade in the drug is a financial lifeline for the Assad regime — it is worth approximately three times the combined trade of the Mexican cartels,” the UK said in a statement announcing the sanctions.

Its trade “enriches Assad’s inner circle, militias and warlords, at the expense of the Syrian people who continue to face crippling poverty and repression at the hands of the regime”.

While estimates of the market’s size and worth vary, the Captagon trade has long been associated with the conflict in Syria, now in its 13th year. Fighters on the battlefield frequently took it to suppress their appetites and sharpen concentration.

In recent years, with economic crises in Lebanon and Syria worsening, experts warned that the trade had spread. Millions of Syrian-made Captagon pills worth billions of dollars have been seized by authorities in Middle Eastern countries as well as in southern Europe, where experts report a growing market.

Its huge scale has led analysts to conclude that the Assad regime, which has regained control of two-thirds of Syria, is complicit in the trade. Experts added that Hizbollah, the Lebanese militant movement, and other Iranian-linked militias in the region were behind the drug’s surge.

Hizbollah and the Assad government have denied involvement in the making and trafficking of the drug.

Among the four Syrians targeted by both Washington and London was Khalid Qaddour, a businessman. Qaddour, along with the two Assad cousins, has been censured over his ties to the president’s younger brother Maher, who heads the Syrian army’s Fourth Division.

Announcing the sanctions, US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said Maher and the Fourth Division were known for running illicit trades, ranging from “smuggling cigarettes and mobile phones to facilitating the production and trafficking of Captagon”.

“It is reportedly Qaddour who is responsible for managing revenues generated by these activities,” Ofac said.

Samer Kamal al-Assad oversaw the drugs’ production in the northern coastal city of Latakia in co-ordination with “certain associates of Hizbollah” and the Fourth Division, the US said. It alleged that in 2020, $1.2bn worth of pills made at the Latakia facilities were seized at the Italian port of Salerno.

Wassim Badia al-Assad, meanwhile, is described by the US as a “key figure in the regional drug trafficking network”, while also leading a paramilitary group that backs the regime.

While most Captagon is made in Syria, much of it “is trafficked through Lebanon”, which shares a porous border with Syria, Ofac said.

Among those hit with sanctions were Noah Zeiter, a weapons and drugs trafficker, and Hassan Daqqou, a dual national who has been nicknamed “the King of Captagon” in local media.

Source: Financial Times

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