The United States imposed sanctions on Tuesday on two cousins of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for trafficking Captagon, an addictive amphetamine drug whose use has increased across the Middle East.
There is a boom in the production and export of Captagan in Syria amid the events of the bloody civil war. Captagon is now Syria’s most valuable export and a major source of income for the government in Damascus.
The United States imposed sanctions on two cousins of Bashar al-Assad, Samer Kamal al-Assad and Wassem Badi al-Assad, because of the drug trade.
Samer Kamal has a factory in the coastal city of Latakia that produced 84 million Captagon pills in 2020, the US Treasury Department said.
Khalid Qaddour, a Syrian businessman who is a close friend of Maher al-Assad, brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was also among those named.
Maher commands the notorious fourth division of the Syrian Arab Army. Aside from its military role, the division oversees a vast business empire that includes the smuggling and production of Captagon. Qaddour is responsible for managing income generated by the activities, according to the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
The sanctions are the first time the US has directly targeted Syria’s Captagon trade.
‘King of Captagain’
Washington’s regional allies, particularly Jordan, have lobbied Washington to take a more active role in stopping the proliferation of drugs. The 2022 defense spending bill included the Captagon Act, which requires the US government to devise a strategy to disrupt and dismantle Syrian narcotics networks.
“Syria has become a world leader in the production of highly addictive Captagon, much of which is trafficked through Lebanon,” said Andrea Gacki, a senior Treasury official handling sanctions.
“Together with our allies, we will hold accountable those who support Bashar al-Assad’s regime with illegal drug revenue and other financial means that enable the regime’s continued oppression of the Syrian people,” she said.
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Others targeted in the sanctions include Nouh Zaitar, a known arms dealer and drug smuggler currently wanted by Lebanese authorities for drug trafficking; and Hassan Dekko, a Lebanese-Syrian national dubbed the “King of Captagain” by the local media.
Under the sanctions, any assets held by individuals on US soil will be frozen and transactions with them will be labeled a crime.
Some of the sanctions are being implemented under the Caesar Act of 2019, a law named after a Syrian military photographer who smuggled thousands of gruesome photographs out of the country that documented evidence of war crimes.
The act allows the US to impose sanctions on individuals or companies doing business with the Syrian government.
The sanctions come as Syria’s neighbors step up efforts to bring Damascus back into the regional fold, worried about the implications of leaving the country a pariah state along their borders.
President Assad has been on a whirlwind diplomatic tour following two deadly earthquakes earlier this year. In February, he visited Oman for his second trip to an Arab state since the start of the Syrian war. He followed it up the next month with a trip to the UAE, along with his wife, Asma.
Last week, Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia and Syria agreed to reopen their embassies after an 11-year freeze in diplomatic relations. Riyadh, along with other Gulf states, supported militants who wanted to overthrow the Syrian leader.