The latest round of European sanctions has impacted Syrian companies and institutions linked to individuals closely associated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma. These measures are part of the West’s efforts to disrupt what is referred to as “Assad’s drug activities.”
On Monday, the European Union implemented a new set of sanctions targeting figures and officials within the Assad regime involved in the manufacturing of drugs, including Captagon pills, and their illicit smuggling to various countries worldwide. Among those affected by the sanctions are six businessmen: Firas al-Akhras (Asma’s brother), Muhannad Dabbagh (her cousin), Fahd Darwish, Bilal al-Naal, Yasar Ibrahim, and Mahmoud al-Daj.
Prominent among the entities hit by the sanctions are companies associated with Mahmoud al-Daj, colloquially known as “the bird of drugs.” These companies, active in sectors like logistics and tourism, are now subject to restrictions.
The sanctions extend to five companies that support and benefit from the Syrian regime: Al-Dj Group, Cham Wings, Freebird Travel Agency, Iloma Investment Private JSC, and Al-Aqila Company. Some of these entities are involved in activities such as the transfer of Syrian mercenaries, arms trade, narcotics trafficking, or money laundering, all of which contribute to the support of the Syrian Regime.
Individuals and entities listed under the sanctions regime face an asset freeze, and the provision of funds or economic resources to them, directly or indirectly, is prohibited. Additionally, a travel ban to the European Union applies to the natural persons listed.
A previous investigation conducted by the Sanctions Study Program at the Syrian Forum unveiled connections between Mahmoud Daj, who holds dual Syrian-Libyan citizenship and is sentenced to death by firing squad in Libya for his involvement in drug trafficking and transporting them to Libya. This investigation was a collaborative effort between the Political and Economic Networks Observatory and the Omran Center for Strategic Studies.
Death row drug dealer flies from Europe to Damascus
The initial steps in the investigation point to Free Bird, a company owned by Daj, leading to Air Mediterranean. The board of directors of Air Mediterranean is chaired by members of the Hallaq family, who are based in Athens, Greece.
During the course of the investigation, recommendations were made for imposing sanctions against Daj and his affiliated companies. The investigation urged Western governments to collaborate with the UAE authorities in scrutinizing Free Bird’s operations in Dubai.
Iloma: The façade of the Assad family
The company Iloma came into focus following the official regime’s media announcement last July regarding the investment project of an undisclosed entity called “Syrian Airlines.”
According to Al-Baath newspaper’s report at that time, the investing company was identified as Iloma for investment in private packaged joint-stock companies. However, specific details about the company’s field of work, founders, and its establishment date were not disclosed. The report only mentioned that the company was set to invest $300 million in Syrian Airlines over a 20-year period.
Despite the absence of online information about the company, Karam al-Shaar, a researcher at the Middle East Institute in Washington, published a copy of the company’s certification contract from the regime’s Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection. The contract revealed that the company was newly established, and ratified sometime in 2023 without specifying the exact date.
According to the contract, Iloma operates in the field of “management and investment of establishments working in the field of tourism, airport services, and entering tenders and auctions with the public sector.” Additionally, it engages in “buying shares and shares in all types of companies and participating in or contributing to their establishment or participation in their management.” The company is also involved in “owning the land and real estate necessary to achieve the company’s purpose, except for building, selling, and trading housing.”
Iloma’s capital was set at only 100 million Syrian pounds ($10,000), divided into 1 million shares. The company is headquartered in Damascus Governorate, with the possibility of establishing branches in all Syrian governorates and outside the country, subject to the Board of Directors’ decision.
Regarding the founders, the contract identified three individuals: Ali Mohammed Deeb (34 years old) with 330,000 shares (33%), residing in Damascus; Razan Nizar Humaira (32 years old) with 330,000 shares (33%), also residing in Damascus; and Ramia Hamdan Deeb (42 years old) with 340,000 shares (34%), residing in Damascus.
In an EU statement, Iloma was described as “a front for the Assad family” and part of the regime’s efforts to derive personal gain by manipulating the economy, thereby supporting and benefiting from the Syrian regime. Researcher Karam Shaar suggested that the names associated with Iloma are “facades” directly connected to Bashar al-Assad through the left of Ibrahim and Ali Najib Ibrahim.
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.