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Rami Makhlouf Switzerland maintains assets freeze on Assad’s wealthy cousin

The Federal Court building in Lausanne, Switzerland

(Keystone)

The financial assets of Syrian billionaire Rami Makhlouf — a cousin of President Bashar al-Assad — invested in Switzerland will remain frozen after the Federal Court rejected his appeal. 

On Friday, Switzerland’s highest court confirmed external linkan earlier decision by the Federal Administrative Court in June 2015 rejecting Makhlouf’s appeal to unblock an undisclosed amount of money in his Swiss accounts. 

The Federal Court said that since it had been established with the “highest probability that Makhlouf is close to the Syrian government and that there is a risk of financial support to the Syrian government, it is necessary to prevent sanctions imposed by Switzerland's trading partners being circumvented on Swiss territory". 

Syrian President Bashar Assad's cousin Rami Makhlouf, taken in 2010

(Keystone)

His assets in Switzerland therefore remain confiscated. 

Assad has traditionally relied on a close-knit set of businessmen most notably Makhlouf, his maternal cousin, to help keep Syria’s economy afloat. Makhlouf is subject to international sanctions and relies on various associates to do business. 

Since May 2011, Makhlouf has featured on a Swiss Federal Council sanctions list concerning Syria. It states that the businessman provides "financing" and "support" to Assad’s regime. 

Makhlouf reportedly owns 40% of Syria's largest mobile provider, Syriatel. In an effort to clean up his image after he was vilified by opponents of al-Assad's rule, Makhlouf presented himself as the principle donor to a foundation for orphans and widows, and said he wanted to separate from the Syriatel group.

But Swiss authorities say his contribution to this foundation does not prove he has distanced himself from his cousin's reign of terror.

"The defendant has a personal and direct interest in maintaining the current regime if he wants to keep his status and his way of life," the Federal Administrative Court said in 2015.

This is not the first time that Makhlouf and his family have faced problems in Switzerland. 

In 2013, the court refused an entry visa application from his brother Hafez Makhlouf, head of the Syrian secret service. It also confirmed the freeze of assets in Switzerland belonging to Hafez Makhlouf and his father Mohamad Makhlouf. 

swissinfo.ch/sb

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