The president’s maternal cousin, Makhlouf is one of the wealthiest men in Syria. The Financial Times estimates his companies, which span telecommunications and real estate through to banking and retail, control as much as 60% of the economy. Experts claim no foreign company can do business in Syria without Makhlouf’s consent. Al Jazeera English reports that state media announced in June 2011 that Makhlouf, whose reputation has long been tainted by claims corruption and cronyism, would not profit from any new projects and would channel some of his immense wealth to charity. The move was an insufficient concession to anti-regime protesters, few of whom have any faith in the Assad government’s alleged plans for reform. He is also a target of U.S. and E.U. sanctions. His brother Hafez Makhlouf, a childhood friend of Bashar Assad, is also head of the all-powerful Damascus branch of the General Intelligence Directorate, the country’s spy agency.
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