July 18, 2022 | Policy Brief

The UN Has Now Spent $81.6 Million at the Four Seasons Damascus

July 18, 2022 | Policy Brief

The UN Has Now Spent $81.6 Million at the Four Seasons Damascus

The United Nations released new procurement data last week showing that its agencies spent an additional $11.5 million last year at the Four Seasons Damascus, for a total of $81.6 million since 2014. The persistence of wasteful spending at the Four Seasons, whose owner finances the Bashar al-Assad regime, demonstrates the need for a complete overhaul of UN procurement processes in Syria.

UN agencies procured $199.8 million worth of goods and services in Syria in 2021, a decrease of nearly 20 percent compared to purchases of $244.5 million the previous year. The UN dataset includes information about 319 major purchase orders and contracts from 2021, which account for $173 million worth of procurement, or 86 percent of the total.

Samer Foz, a confidant of Assad, has a majority stake in the Four Seasons Damascus, with the Syrian Ministry of Tourism holding a minority share. The European Union sanctioned Foz in early 2019; later that year, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned both Foz and the hotel itself.

In 2016, when news first broke about the size of UN bills at the Four Seasons, a spokesman for the UN secretary-general justified the expenditure on the grounds that there were few safe places for UN personnel to reside in Damascus. Yet even after Assad crushed the last rebel strongholds in and around the capital, the United Nations did not relocate its staff.

The new procurement data also underscore the extent to which the United Nations procures goods and services directly from the Syrian government and from other suppliers with ties to the regime. For example, the General Organization for Seed Multiplication (GOSM), one of the government’s agricultural arms, received $1.5 million last year and $17.6 million since 2015. Even if GOSM has an innocuous mission, the regime has demonstrated its ability to divert aid from its intended recipients to security forces or senior officials.

The United Nations also hires security companies with ties to the Assad regime, such as ProGuard, whose co-founder Hashim Anwar al-Aqqad is under EU sanctions for supporting the regime. ProGuard did $600,000 worth of business with UN agencies last year and $4.1 million since 2015. Meanwhile, Shorouk for Security Services had contracts worth $1.5 million last year and $6.3 million since 2015. Shorouk has former generals on its board, and a Syrian émigré scholar has traced the company’s links to Maher al-Assad, the brother of the dictator.

Greater transparency in procurement is also needed. UN agencies withheld the names of the suppliers associated with 55 orders or contracts, whose total value is $33.6 million, or one sixth of all UN procurement in Syria last year. The stated purpose for withholding these names is to protect the privacy or security of the suppliers, yet these anonymous vendors often provided goods such as office equipment, furniture, and food, which are not of a sensitive nature. Some agencies designated the names of only a few partners as sensitive, but UNICEF withheld the names of suppliers for all $15.7 million in goods and services it purchased last year.

Since the first years of the war, independent analysts have reported how the Assad regime diverts extensive amounts of humanitarian aid. The United Nations has apparently resigned itself to the status quo. Even donor states hesitate to raise the subject.

The U.S. president, secretary of state, and ambassador to the United Nations should ask the UN secretary-general to immediately appoint an independent ombudsman to review all humanitarian operations in Syria. The ombudsman should be able to block further procurement from problematic suppliers and take other appropriate measures to prevent diversion. Congress may want to strengthen the president’s hand by making some appropriations for the United Nations contingent on the appointment of an ombudsman. Until then, assistance for the war’s victims will continue to enrich their oppressor.

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 focused on national security and foreign policy.


International Organizations Syria