The news of the former governor of Lattakia, Ibrahim Khader al-Salem, being arrested on charges of corruption and misappropriation of public funds failed to resonate as expected among citizens in Lattakia. Many perceive this arrest as a belated action, questioning the sincerity of the government’s commitment to combat corruption, given that Salem remained in office from 2014 to 2021.
Salem was apprehended by security forces at his home in Lattakia approximately a month and a half ago and is currently held at Lattakia Central Prison, “al-Bassa,” pending investigations into ten allegations.
A leaked video showing Salem in court with handcuffs fueled public outrage, with many Lattakia residents interpreting it as an attempt to channel citizen anger and convey the initiation of an anti-corruption campaign.
Enab Baladi uncovered the charges against Salem, including money laundering, dealing in non-Syrian currency, squandering public funds, bribery, altering regulatory status, permitting building violations and the expropriation of state land.
An anonymous source familiar with the investigation process revealed the high level of confidentiality surrounding the case, with the prosecution issue against Salem being held by the Public Prosecutor in Lattakia.
In addition to the former governor, around a dozen former Lattakia officials, including Jihad Hatoum, director of real estate interests, former mayors Muhammad Fawaz Hakim and Ahmed Wazzan, Yasser al-Boudi, assistant director of real estate interests, businessman and contractor Youssef al-Hajj, and others are also in prison.
The most significant charges against Salem revolve around the Zaytouna suburb, one of Syria’s largest housing projects. Despite challenges such as old organizational plans, school locations, overlapping heirs, and public property, Salem allegedly abused his authority to facilitate Youssef al-Hajj’s construction project six years ago. This project is now one of Lattakia city’s most prestigious neighborhoods.
Allegations suggest that Salem owns several residential towers gifted by Youssef Hajj, although this information remains unconfirmed.
Among the investigated issues is Salem’s purported approval of building violations in exchange for a full floor in each violation, along with changes in organizational characteristics, converting commercial buildings into residential ones to construct additional houses, even on unsuitable land.
Doubts persist among the public and local news sources regarding the justifiability of Salem’s arrest. The construction scandal of Zaytouna proceeded without questioning, and Salem, reportedly protected by Presidential Chancellor Buthaina Shaaban, remains a relative of hers, although this information could not be verified.
The arrest and investigation of a governor mark an unprecedented event in Syria, where corruption cases and those responsible are typically shielded from public scrutiny. On October 9th, Tayseer Habib, head of the Lattakia Governorate Council, disclosed that several corruption-related issues were transferred for inspection, emphasizing the dismissal and investigation of numerous neighbourhood mukhtars.
While corruption plagues more than two-thirds of the world’s countries, Syria ranked second to last globally in Transparency International’s 2022 report.
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.