Syrian Bigwigs and Capital Flee under Implied Threat of Military Action

The threat of military action was embedded in the UN Security Council resolution. It was reinforced by US Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice when she spoke of “serious’ consequences” – diplomatic parlance for military action – should Syria fail to cooperate with the final and conclusive part of UN investigator Dehlev Mehlis’ inquiry into the murder of Lebanese leader Rafiq Hariri last February.
The explicit threat of economic sanctions was deleted from the American-British-French draft demanding Damascus’ cooperation. It was dropped for the sake of a unanimous 15:0 endorsement to appease Russian, Chinese and Algerian objections. Instead, the resolution called for unspecific “measures.” However the motion was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which spells out these measures as being “partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraph, and other means of communication, and severance of diplomatic relations.”
The same chapter permits the use of armed force if those measures fall short of their purpose. Syria is required to detain any suspects named by the UN investigators and hand them over for interrogation at places and in conditions determined by those investigators.
The second tough clause states: suspects may be subject to a travel ban and a freeze on their assets.
Rice and British foreign secretary Jack Straw both addressed the Security Council session to strengthen the implied phased threats of the resolution.
Faced with this torrent of menacing language, Bashar Assad’s close associates have already decided that escape is the better part of valor. Influential Syrian VIPs appear to have read the UN resolution carefully last week and are absconding. debkafile‘s intelligence sources reveal large cash withdrawals from Syrian banks, currency conversions and transfers to banks outside the country.
The flight of money was accompanied by an exodus of some of the leading families of Damascus – anxious to beat “the ban on travel and assets freeze” mandated by the UN resolution for suspects in the Hariri murder plot.
The largest capital transfer – estimated at $6-7bn – was made by the tycoon Rami Makhlouf who lost no time in removing himself, business and family from Damascus to Dubai.
Makhlouf’s defection is a mortal blow for Assad and his shrinking circle of supporters. He is not only the manager of the Assad clans’ finances, his is also a close kinsman; Bashar’s mother is his aunt, sister of his father General Adnan Makhlouf, who served the late president Hafez Assad in a top position of trust as commander of the presidential guard.
His huge capital transfer and removal of his business center from the Syrian capital are capable of bringing the national economy crashing down about Assad’s ears.
His is not the only defection. Several other affluent Syrian businessmen close to the regime have also decamped. The second richest man in the country, Firas Tlas, has moved lock, stock and barrel, to Abu Dhabi. debkafile‘s sources report the secret flit of General Bahajat Suleiman, head of Syria’s intelligence council and virtual overlord of the national clandestine services.
Desperate to drum up support from his fellow Arab leaders, Assad demanded an Arab League summit but was informed that a narrow forum was the most that can be convened.
UN investigator Mehlis and his team were back at work in Beirut soon after the Security Council resolution was passed Monday night, Oct. 31. Mid-December is his deadline for winding up his probe.
Bashar Assad is confronted head-on now with a dilemma: which of his close relative should he surrender as a scapegoat? His young brother Maher Assad, or his sister’s husband, Assed Shawqat? Both top the Mehlis list of Syrian suspects in the Hariri murder plot.

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