How Assad’s allies got $18 million from United Nations
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How Assad’s allies got $18 million from United Nations

Four Seasons hotel in Damascus. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)
Orient Net - Bloomberg Politics
Date: 2017-08-01 14:54
The United Nations paid at least  million last ‎year to companies with close ties to Bashar al-‎Assad, some of them run by Assad cronies ‎despite the fact of being on US and European ‎Union blacklists.‎

Contracts for telecommunications and security ‎were awarded to regime insiders including Rami ‎Makhlouf, Assad’s cousin. UN staff ran up a .5 ‎million bill at the Four Seasons hotel in ‎Damascus, co-owned by Assad tourism ministry, ‎according to the UN’s annual report on ‎procurement for 2016, a 739-page document ‎published in June. Some UN money even went ‎to a charity set up by Bashar Assad wife.‎

The UN has its own global blacklist and isn’t ‎bound by sanctions imposed by member states ‎or regional blocs such as the EU. Still, the ‎distribution of funds to Assad allies will further ‎fuel criticism that the world body has failed badly ‎over Syria, where more than six years of war ‎have left at least 400,000 people dead.‎

UN bodies have repeatedly condemned the ‎Assad atrocities. Western and Arab nations put ‎most of the blame on Assad, yet the veto power ‎wielded by Russia, a supporter of the Assad ‎regime, has prevented the UN Security Council ‎from endorsing tougher action or adding Assad ‎cronies to its blacklist.‎

‎“Any money going to Assad and his allies shows ‎that the UN is not impartial but is in fact helping ‎the largest player in the conflict,’’ said Kathleen ‎Fallon, a spokeswoman for The Syria Campaign, ‎an independent advocacy group. “The regime ‎has been responsible for the majority of the ‎deaths, and they are being rewarded. It sends ‎the wrong message.’’‎

UN officials point to the difficulty of operating ‎outside the auspices of governments in ‎countries such as Syria, and the premium placed ‎on protecting its staff. In 2003, when the U.S. ‎invasion of Iraq had begun evolving into a war ‎with parallels to the Syrian conflict, UN envoy ‎Sergio Vieira de Mello and several members of ‎his staff were killed by a car-bomb attack on the ‎Baghdad hotel they were using as a base.‎

The UN spent 0 million on goods and services ‎in Syria last year, according to the report.‎

Syriatel, which belongs to Makhlouf, was paid ‎‎4,300 by three different UN bodies including ‎the refugee agency UNHCR and the children’s ‎relief organization UNICEF. Another UN agency, ‎the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for ‎Palestine, paid 5,043 to Qasioun, a security ‎firm he owns.‎

‎‘Mr. 10 Percent’‎

Makhlouf, one of Syria’s richest businessmen, ‎has been on the US Treasury’s blacklist since ‎‎2008. Qasioun was specifically listed by the ‎Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in ‎December.‎

He’s “known as Mr. 10 percent in Syria because ‎he has an interest in so much of the economy,” ‎said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert who heads the ‎Center of Middle East Studies at Oklahoma ‎University. “The key to getting anything done in ‎Syria is to grease the palms of the powerful.’’‎

Muhammad Hamsho, another regime insider, ‎was added to the US sanctions list in 2011. The ‎EU followed suit in 2015, saying he “benefits ‎from and provides support to the Assad regime ‎through his business interests.’’‎

‎‘You Don’t Know’‎

A Treasury spokesman said that US sanctions on ‎Syria “prohibit American persons from engaging ‎in a wide range of transactions, and block the ‎Assad regime from certain activities,’’ while ‎declining to comment on specific companies.‎

Linda Robinson, a senior policy analyst at Rand ‎Corp., said the UN’s “reputation has been ‎damaged’’ over Syria.‎

Meanwhile, UN efforts to bring food and ‎medical relief to Syria have been physically ‎targeted by Assad’s regime -- and also criticized ‎by his opponents.‎

Last September, Assad planes bombed an aid ‎convoy carrying medicine and supplies to the city ‎of Aleppo, then under siege by Assad’s army ‎and since captured from the rebels.‎

‎‘Get Things Done’‎

But Syrian and international non-governmental ‎organizations have complained that aid has ‎disproportionately gone to Assad-controlled ‎areas. They received 88 percent of food aid ‎distributed from Damascus in April 2016, ‎according to a World Food Program report. In ‎September, 73 NGOs wrote to the UN ‎condemning the manipulation of relief efforts.‎

One local group that handled aid deliveries is the ‎Syria Trust for Development, a charity headed by ‎Asma al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s wife. It was ‎awarded 1,129 last year by the UN Office for ‎the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.‎

‎“The UN wants to be as close as possible to the ‎regime to get things done,’’ said Reinoud ‎Leenders, an associate professor at the ‎Department of War Studies at King’s College in ‎London. Still, he said, it’s “puzzling’’ that the UN ‎is ignoring American blacklists. “Especially ‎considering that the US is its main funder.’’‎

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