Companies based in Syria and Lebanon have crated joint ventures with the Assad government to build oil refineries.
This past week the US Government imposed sanctions on firms seeking to revive the Syrian oil sector, as part of its ongoing effort to prevent the country’s government from benefiting from new and restarted reconstruction projects.
The U.S. sanctions were imposed under a variety of authorities, including the Caesar Act, which authorized designations of foreign persons who support the Syrian government, or foreigners involved in business dealings with various Syrian economic sectors.
The sanctions come as the nine-year civil war in Syria slogs on, and the government of President Bashar al-Assad grants contracts to close associates and other businessmen, foreign and domestic, to help rebuild the country. Millions of Syrian refugees displaced by the war should return home for the reconstruction effort, as large areas of the country are relatively peaceful, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who backs Assad in the war, said Monday.
Assad on Wednesday blamed U.S. sanctions and international pressure for the refugees’ hesitance to come home.
As with recent rounds of U.S. sanctions on Syria, many of the latest designations focus on people and companies that score government contracts through their access to Assad. The U.S. also sanctioned two Syrian parliamentarians and several military officials involved in human rights abuses, and the EU last week designated eight Syrian government ministers.
“The Treasury Department is determined to continue to apply economic pressure on the Assad regime and its supporters for the repression conducted by the regime,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.
Arfada Petroleum Private Joint Stock Company and Sallizar Shipping SAL, based in Syria and Lebanon, respectively, were designated Monday under the Caesar Act and have entered into contracts with the Syrian government to revive the oil sector, the Treasury said. Both firms had received approval to establish refining companies in Syria.
Arfada and Sallizar together hold an 85 percent stake in joint ventures with the Syrian Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, and the Public Establishment for Refining and Distribution (PERD), to establish new oil refineries in Syria, according to the Treasury. The ministry and PERD hold the remaining 15 percent in each of the refinery companies, the Treasury said.
Both the ministry and PERD were sanctioned Monday as Syrian government entities. The ministry oversees the country’s oil and natural gas sectors; it established PERD in 2009 to oversee and regulate the refining and distribution of oil products in Syria, and to act as the parent company of state-owned refineries and oil distribution companies, the Treasury said.
Arfada was founded by Muhammad al-Qatirji and Hussam al-Qatirji as a subsidiary of the al-Qatirji Company to buy and sell petroleum products and dig oil wells.
Muhammad al-Qatirji and the al-Qatirji Company were sanctioned in 2018; the U.S. on Monday designated Hussam al-Qatirji, who it said was the “godfather” of the Syrian government’s oil and wheat trade with the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS). Hussam al-Qatirji, who started brokering oil and trade deals between Assad and ISIS in 2014, has been a member of the Syrian parliament since 2016, the Treasury said; he was sanctioned by the EU in January 2019 over his support to the Syrian government and its cronyism.
The U.S. on Monday also sanctioned Kamal Imad al-Din al-Madani and Tariq Imad al-Din al-Madani, two of the four founders of Sallizar. Kamal Al-Madani had represented Sallizar in agreements with the Syrian government; he is its board chair, general manager and an authorized signatory with a one-fourth stake in the company, according to the Treasury. Tariq Al-Madani, who also is a 25 percent owner, is its assistant general manager and a member of the board.
Nabil Toumeh Bin Mohammed and Amer Taysir Khiti, two members of the Syrian People’s Assembly, were also sanctioned by the U.S., along with their holding companies.
“Many of Syria’s parliamentary representatives are expanding their financial dealings on behalf of Bashar and Maher al-Assad rather than using their legislative positions to serve the Syrian people,” the U.S. State Department said.
Toumeh founded the Toumeh International Group, which operates subsidiaries covering a range of products and services, the Treasury said, including information technology, telecommunication, TV production, advertising, engineering and contracting, imports and exports, industrial equipment, tourism, printing and publishing, as well as décor and furniture.
Khiti co-founded and is the chair of the Khiti Holding Group, which is a real estate development, commercial and industrial conglomerate, according to the Treasury. He built a military recruitment division for the government in Douma, an act interpreted by local media outlets as a way to gain favor with the Assad government, according to reports from 2019.
As of October 2018, Khiti was the chair of the Ard Al-Khair International Company, a fruit importer-exporter based in Egypt with branches in Turkey, Jordan, Oman and Syria, according to its social media. The firm signed a contract valued initially at $5 million with a Russian company at the Damascus International Fair in 2018 to export grapes and pomegranates to Russia, a regional business outlet reported. Al-Khair made two shipments of pomegranates to a Ukraine-based firm in fall 2019, shipping records show.
“The Assad regime has a choice: take irreversible steps toward a peaceful resolution of this nearly decade-long conflict or face further crippling sanctions,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
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