At the beginning of August, the security committee in the Republican Palace summoned the general director of the Bustan Charitable Association, Samer Darwish, who is close to Rami Makhlouf, as part of an investigation into matters pertaining to “corruption and financing terrorism.”
According to Al-Modon’s sources, the accusations made against Darwish relate to his wealth and the wealth of his family, as well as the financing of the Bustan Association, the wages of the armed militia affiliated with it, the means of recruiting fighters and their failure to perform compulsory and reserve service in regime forces, as well as “violations” carried out by the militia after military operations ended in Damascus and its countryside.
The investigation of Darwish did not last long. He was asked to submit association files, but his delay in carrying out the requests of the security committee in charge of the investigation pushed the Republican Palace security to raid sites affiliated with Darwish at the end of August. This coincided with rumors spreading about Rami Makhlouf and his siblings being placed under house arrest, which was denied by Al-Modon’s sources.
After being held for short period, Darwish was released and an order was issued that prevented him from leaving Syria, and for his assets in Syrian banks to be frozen and the cars he owned confiscated.
The Republican Palace patrols raided the Bustan Association’s offices and storehouses in al-Mezzeh in Damascus, and all his electronic equipment was confiscated. Some employees were arrested along with Darwish.
The patrols also raided Darwish’s private office in the Eastern Villas areas in the al-Mezzeh district. His electronic equipment and files in the office were confiscated. This coincided with a raid on Bustan storehouses and a warehouse of foodstuffs affiliated with a company called “Yafour Parks” in which Darwish apparently has a stake. The company’s files and data and the funds there were confiscated and it was left to operate “normally.”
The raids on Darwish’s bases also coincided with a campaign of arrests of more than 20 fighters in the Bustan Association backed by Darwish and who were deployed at military checkpoints in the al-Mezzeh 86 area and had the task of searching cars and carrying out security checks of pedestrians.
A source in the Bustan Association told Al-Modon that Rami Makhlouf was not related to the problems with Darwish and that what was occurring pertained to corruption issues related personally to Darwish. The source said that the Republican Palace had not gone near Makhlouf and that his association was still working “normally.” In Damascus, Palace Security withdrew all files from the association and took control of the storehouses until the investigation was over. It put the association and all those in it in the custody of a Republican Palace officer.
Al-Modon’s source did not rule out that Darwish and his fighters were involved in matters related to opposition groups when they were in the Damascus countryside and trading with them in supplies, ammunition and medicine. This issue was widespread among many regime forces officers and some of them have been investigated after it was proven they had “commercial” dealings with the rebels in eastern Ghouta, Barzeh and Qalamoun during the siege, dealings that worked counter to the policy of starvation and submission that the regime pursued.
However, Al-Modon’s sources said that Darwish had been implicated in smuggling large amounts of money, belonging to him and influential economic figures in Damascus, out of Syria.
Samer Darwish is the son of the retired Major General Ahmed Darwish, who worked as a security affairs adviser in the Republican Palace. Samer is close to Rami Makhlouf, making him an influential figure. Darwish has violated the Bustan Association’s internal rules, which say the general manager must be changed every five years.
Al-Modon’s source, who works at Bustan, said that Rami had been in Dubai in mid-August and had left for Belarus, and then back to Damascus, before departing again for an unknown location.
His father, Mohamed Makhlouf, who is said to be under house arrest, is in Damascus, according to Al-Modon’s sources, and was seen at a late-night event during Eid al-Adha.
Al-Modon’s sources did not downplay the tension between Bashar al-Assad and Rami Makhlouf, saying that it was possible that Rami and his siblings may be having their “nails trimmed.” A source predicted that the operation would be carried out quietly and without fanfare. The direct reason behind this discontent relates to the major “violations”, as the source put it, by Rami and more than 20 economic figures working with him, who have worked to smuggle billions of dollars outside Syria in recent years.
Al-Modon’s sources said that new arrests would be carried out against influential economic figures at the request of Russia to reduce the smuggling of money outside Syria and to help return some of it through “negotiations” with the aim of supporting the Syrian economy—especially given that the value of the Syrian pound has been collapsing at an unprecedented rate since the start of the revolution.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.