Papers reveal how Syria’s elite benefitted from complex international banking system
A man linked to the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, used a network of offshore companies based in the British Virgin Islands to buy property in London worth in excess of £6m, the Panama Papers have revealed.
According to the Guardian, which has worked on the data leak from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, Soulieman Marouf has held at least six luxury flats in London.
These include a £1.3m property in St. John’s Wood, a £1.2m apartment in a Norman Foster designed complex in Battersea, and a £1m flat in St George Wharf in Vauxhall.
In October 2012, Marouf was placed on a blacklist of individuals sanctioned by the European Union due to his links to Assad.
These sanctions were lifted in 2014 with backing from William Hague, the Guardian reports, and restrictions have since been lifted on his properties.
Marouf’s lawyer said: “There are a number of reasons for utilising offshore companies, including the desire for privacy. Full disclosure has been given to [the]Treasury and/or HMRC [Revenue & Customs] and the UK tax authorities have acknowledge that these companies are compliant with UK tax laws. The UK authorities are fully aware that our client is the beneficial owner of these companies.”
Marouf continues to invest in UK property.
Further links to Syria
Meanwhile, Mossack Fonseca, counted among its clients a string of companies linked to Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf.
Makhlouf was described in US diplomatic cables as Syria’s “poster boy for corruption”, and in 2008 the US imposed sanctions on him saying he “improperly benefits from and aids the public corruption of Syrian regime officials”.
Despite the blacklisting the bank continued to work with Makhlouf, even rejecting concerns from within the firm’s own team about working with individuals on sanction lists.
In addition, British bank HSBC also lobbied on behalf of Makhlouf, enabling him to keep his Swiss bank accounts open, even as his cousin was embroiled in the early stages of the Syrian civil war in which hundreds of thousands were killed.