September 30, 2020 | Policy Brief

Sanctions Target War Profiteer Working for Assad’s Brother

September 30, 2020 | Policy Brief

Sanctions Target War Profiteer Working for Assad’s Brother

The Treasury Department imposed sanctions today on Syrian war profiteer Khodr Ali Taher and 11 of his companies – part of the fourth set of designations since the Caesar Act went into effect this past June. The targeting of Taher, a protégé of Bashar al-Assad’s younger brother Maher, is consistent with U.S. efforts to target the Assad family and its closest confidantes, especially the young entrepreneurs who have helped the regime take advantage of war-related business opportunities.

Taher rose to prominence after he began working with Syria’s 4th Armored Division, over which Maher al-Assad exercises control. The 4th Division’s security bureau, which handles its business affairs, began contracting with Taher in 2016 to protect its convoys. The firms Treasury sanctioned today include Castle Security and Protection LLC, which Taher founded in 2017 to manage his protection business. According to Treasury, the firm also operates lucrative checkpoints that collect fees from those crossing the front lines or the border with Lebanon.

The European Union sanctioned Taher this past February. In June, Treasury sanctioned Brigadier General Ghassan Bilal, the director of the security bureau as well as one of the division’s regimental commanders.

The 4th Armored Division is an elite military unit with a special responsibility for protecting the regime, along with the Republican Guards and Special Forces Regiments. Syria’s Alawite minority, to which the Assad family belongs, is heavily represented in the 4th Division. There are indications that attrition has compromised the quality of the division’s personnel, yet it appears to be one of the few Syrian units still capable of offensive operations. The division shot and killed unarmed protesters in the first years of the civil war, while executing soldiers who refused to participate in such actions. The United States designated Maher al-Assad in 2011 for human rights violations.

Taher has come into conflict with senior regime officials and leading business figures as a result of his activities, often prevailing because of Assad’s patronage. Last year, the minister of the interior banned all police and security departments from dealing with Taher. Days later, the head of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Industry told a pro-regime television station that Taher and his kind were “smugglers, thieves, and criminals.” The interview soon disappeared from the station’s website, however, while the ministry withdrew its ban on working with Taher.

In addition to Taher, today’s designations targeted Hazem Younes Karfoul, head of the Syrian central bank, and Husam Mohammad Louka, head of the General Intelligence Directorate, which is responsible for numerous human rights violations. The United States originally designated the Directorate in 2011.

With its fourth set of designations on Syria since June, the administration has followed through on its promise to escalate pressure on Damascus continually as part of what it calls “the summer of Caesar.” Today’s designations were pursuant to executive orders that preceded the Caesar Act, yet the administration has made clear its intention to employ all available authorities to pursue the act’s objectives.

Looking ahead, the administration should explore the potential to apply Caesar Act authorities to individuals and entities in Lebanon and other financial centers in the region that help the Assad regime procure hard currency and access the international financial system. The United States should also pay special attention to the regime’s engagement in narco-trafficking and diversion of UN humanitarian aid as means of surviving the severe economic crisis that began late last year, shortly before the president signed the Caesar Act into law.

David Adesnik is research director and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from David and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow David on Twitter @adesnik. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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