WHO IS GEORGES HASWANI?

On May 2015 the EU imposed a sanction Georges Haswani and affiliated companies and associates, followed yesterday by the US Treasury OFAC Office

WASHINGTON – In response to continuing violence by the Assad regime against its citizens, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated four individuals and six entities providing support to the Government of Syria pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13582, including a middleman for oil purchases by the Syrian regime from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).  As a result of today’s action, all assets of those designated that are in the United States or that are in the control of U.S. persons are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. 
 
“The Syrian government is responsible for widespread brutality and violence against its own people,” said Adam J. Szubin, acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “The United States will continue targeting the finances of all those enabling Assad to continue inflicting violence on the Syrian people.”
 
Ongoing Government of Syria Ties to ISIL
 
OFAC designated George Haswani today for materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria, and HESCO Engineering and Construction Company (HESCO) for being owned or controlled by Haswani.  Haswani is a Syrian businessman who serves as a middleman for oil purchases by the Syrian regime from ISIL.  HESCO is a Syrian engineering and construction company that operates energy production facilities in Syria, reportedly in areas controlled by ISIL.  The European Union (EU) added Haswani to its sanctions list in March 2015. 
 
Government of Syria Financial Facilitation and Procurement
 
OFAC designated Mudalal Khuri today for materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of previously designated entities and individuals including the Government of Syria, Central Bank of Syria, Central Bank of Syria Governor Adib Mayaleh, and Central Bank of Syria official Batoul Rida.  OFAC designated Adib Mayaleh in July 2012 and Batoul Rida in March 2015.
 
Khuri has had a long association with the Assad regime and represents regime business and financial interests in Russia.  Khuri is linked to financial transactions in which the Government of Syria had an interest as early as 1994.  He also served as an intermediary between Batoul Rida and a Russian firm on an attempted procurement of ammonium nitrate in late 2013.  Khuri also owns or controls five of the entities designated today.
 
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was designated today for materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria, Central Bank of Syria, Adib Mayaleh, and Batoul Rida.  Ilyumzhinov is a wealthy Russian businessman, former president of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, and long-time World Chess Federation president.  He is linked to financial transactions involving Khuri-associated companies as early as 1997 and owns or controls the Russian Financial Alliance Bank, along with Khuri.  An advisor to Ilyumzhinov, then-President of Kalmykia, was convicted in Russia in 1999 for the murder of an opposition journalist who reportedly was investigating an offshore business registration mechanism in Kalmykia tied to Ilyumzhinov.  Russian authorities subsequently closed the offshore business registration mechanism after concluding that it was being used for illegal purposes.
 
OFAC designated Russian Financial Alliance Bank (RFA Bank) today for being owned or controlled by Khuri and Ilyumzhinov.  Khuri is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of RFA Bank, and Ilyumzhinov is a major shareholder of RFA Bank and former Chairman of the Board of Directors of RFA Bank.  At the time of his Chairmanship, Ilyumzhinov reportedly brought in his own representatives to the bank.
 
Nicos Nicolaou was designated today for materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of designated entities and individuals including the Government of Syria, Ioannis Ioannou, Piruseti Enterprises Ltd., and Khuri.  OFAC designated Ioannis Ioannou and Piruseti Enterprises Ltd. pursuant to E.O. 13582 in October 2014.  As part of his responsibilities as a director and officer for numerous Khuri-linked companies, Nicolaou authorized a decision in mid-2014 for Cyprus-based Primax Business Consultants Limited to open euro, U.S. dollar, and ruble bank accounts at a Russian bank for a company partially owned by Khuri.
 
OFAC designated Primax Business Consultants Limited (Primax) today for being owned or controlled by, materially assisting, and acting for or on behalf of designated entities and individuals including the Government of Syria, Ioannou, Khuri, and Nicolaou.  Nicolaou is the Director and Secretary of Primax. 
 
Hudsotrade Limited (Hudsotrade) was designated today for being owned or controlled by Khuri, Nicolaou, and Primax.  Khuri is the Deputy Head Company Representative of Hudsotrade, Nicolaou is a Director of Hudsotrade, and Primax is the Secretary of Hudsotrade.
 
OFAC designated Ezegoo Investments Ltd. today for being owned or controlled by Ioannou, Khuri, Nicolaou, and Primax.  Ioannou, Khuri, and Nicolaou are Directors of Ezegoo, and Primax is a Secretary of Ezegoo.
 
Kremsont Commercial Inc. (Kremsont) was designated today  for being owned or controlled by Khuri and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria.  Kremsont is a Belizean front company whose director is Russia-based Syrian businessman Khuri.
 
For identifying information on the individuals and entities designated today, click here.
 
WHO IS REALLY GEORGES HASWANI?

George Haswani, a Greek Catholic businessman from the town of Yabroud, near the Syrian border with Lebanon. The report claims that Haswani “was able to forge a relationship with the group that led to an understanding to transport crude from the fields it took over to regime areas, in return for financial and cash transfers, which he himself handled.”

 

Haswani’s name surfaced in late 2013/early 2014 in another mediatory role, namely the negotiation over the release of nuns then held by Jabhat al-Nusra in Yabroud. Reports at the time described Haswani as a businessman with “close ties to the Assad regime,” and “strong ties” to Assad personally. 

 

A Syrian rebel commander told NPR’s Deborah Amos last year that Haswani “runs an oil and gas construction business with ties to Moscow.” In March, the Syrian pro-opposition website All4Syria provided more data on Haswani’s business and ties to Russia; information it said it obtained from someone who worked with him. Haswani was deputy general manager of the Banias refinery. He had studied in Russia, where he married his first wife. While in Russia, Haswani made contacts, “some of whom,” according to the website’s source, “had gone on to assume high-ranking positions in the Russian security establishment.” As a result, Haswani’s firm, HESCO Co., “secured contracts with Russian oil and gas firms, as well as in importing spare parts for Russian military vehicles and oil wells.” Haswani’s son-in-law, Yousef Arbash, runs his Moscow office. There, All4Syria’s report added, he works closely with Amjad Douba, nephew of former Military Intelligence chief Ali Douba, who has long been established in Moscow.

 

Specifically, HESCO is the subcontractor for Russian company Stroytransgaz. In an interview in June of last year, Arbash explained that HESCO has been “strategic partners” with the Russian firm, working on joint projects in Sudan, Algeria, the UAE and Iraq. Back then, HESCO had started working with Stroytransgaz to build a gas processing plant in Palmyra, which is supposed to be completed in the second half of 2014. The Russian company also signed a deal with the Syrian regime in June of this year for the first phase of an irrigation project for northeast Syria. The deal, valued at SYP30 billion ($194 million), is for the construction of a main pumping station in the Ain Diwar area, near the Turkish and Iraqi borders, to draw water from the Tigris River. Haswani was present at the signing, and confirmed moving forward with the Russian company as its subcontractor “on vital projects in Syria despite difficulties in implementation.”

 

In the Syrian context, the ability to land such contracts would situate Haswani in the class of cronies that the Assad family and its Makhlouf cousins have cultivated and tied to their rule. The All4Syria report also claimed that Haswani’s second marriage was to an Alawite woman from Lattakia “connected to the Assad family.” This could further explain his privileged status and closeness to the ruling family, as well as Assad’s confidence in him as a middleman.

 

If the allegation regarding Haswani’s role as Assad’s intermediary with the IS is true, then it turns the conventional narrative regarding Assad and the IS on its head. The regime’s line is that Assad constitutes the best hope for protecting minorities from the IS. However, it may well turn out that it was a Christian crony of the regime who facilitated its dealings with the IS and directly contributed to the growth of the group. 

 

The claim about Haswani paints a picture of cynical dealings between two monsters, with a Christian middleman handling their mutually-beneficial business. This underscores the problem with a sectarian approach to US policy in Syria, especially one premised on supposed Christian solidarity. Certain high-profile Christian figures, including some in the clergy, have advocated, implicitly or explicitly, aligning with Assad under the pretext of protecting minorities against the predations of the IS. However, not only is their position suspect, but also, some may themselves turn out to be accomplices to both Assad and the Islamic State. 

 

 

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