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Who’s Who Taher al-Kayali: the Shadows of Illicit Trade and Political Dynamics

Who is Taher al-Kayali, targeted by a new wave of U.S. sanctions?
Who’s Who Taher al-Kayali: the Shadows of Illicit Trade and Political Dynamics

Taher al-Kayali, a key figure entangled in the intricate web of illicit trade and political dynamics within Syria, has emerged as a central player in the global drug trafficking ecosystem, particularly in the smuggling of Captagon and hashish. Through his company, Neptunus LLC, al-Kayali has not only facilitated substantial operations that span across the Mediterranean but also played a pivotal role in sustaining the financial mechanisms of the Assad regime. His acquisition and use of cargo vessels for smuggling purposes highlight a sophisticated network aimed at distributing these narcotics from Syria to various destinations, including significant hauls intercepted by Greek authorities. Al-Kayali’s actions have attracted international sanctions and scrutiny, underscoring the complex interplay between illicit trade and geopolitical stability in the region. This profile delves into the depths of al-Kayali’s operations, tracing the impact of his activities from the Mediterranean shores to the broader implications for global security and the ongoing conflict in Syria.

The Central Figure in Global Drug Trafficking

Taher al-Kayali stands as a prominent figure deeply entangled in the complex web of illicit trade and political dynamics within Syria. His significant role in the global drug trafficking ecosystem, especially in the smuggling of Captagon and hashish, has been critically impactful. Through his company, Neptunus LLC, al-Kayali has orchestrated extensive operations across the Mediterranean, playing a crucial role in sustaining the Assad regime’s financial mechanisms. His strategic acquisition and utilization of cargo vessels for smuggling purposes underline a well-organized network aimed at distributing narcotics from Syria to various global destinations, including substantial hauls intercepted by Greek authorities. These actions have drawn international sanctions and scrutiny, highlighting the intricate relationship between illicit trade and geopolitical stability.

 Impact on the Assad Regime’s Underpinnings

Kayali’s engagement in a vast network of illicit trade significantly affects the political and financial foundations of the Assad regime. His leadership of Neptunus LLC, a Syria-based entity, has been instrumental in carrying out operations with wide-reaching regional and international ramifications. The acquisition of vessels like the cargo ship Noka for smuggling large quantities of Captagon and hashish—key financial supports for the Assad regime—was exposed when the Noka was intercepted in 2018 en route from Latakia to eastern Libya. This operation uncovered al-Kayali’s expansive role in drug trafficking, shedding light on the scale and scope of his influence.

 Legal Repercussions and OFAC Designation

In response to his significant contributions to the Syrian government’s support network, al-Kayali and Neptunus have been designated under Executive Order 13582 by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). This designation aims to disrupt the financial and logistical networks bolstering the Assad regime. Al-Kayali’s prior criminal convictions in Italy for smuggling stolen cars and luxury yachts illustrate a long history of engagement in illicit activities across continents. Despite these legal challenges, his return to Syria and the establishment of ventures like Ocean World Shipping and Oriental Shipping Fleet demonstrate his skill in navigating the grey areas between legitimate business and criminal enterprises.

 The Naples Connection and the Captagon Shipment

The narrative of al-Kayali took a significant turn in Naples, where in 2020, Italian authorities confiscated the second-largest Captagon shipment in history at the port of Salerno. This seizure, initially linked to a Syrian company allegedly associated with ISIS, sparked debates about the drugs’ final destination and the real entities behind their production and distribution. Subsequent investigations identified al-Kayali as the architect of this enormous drug shipment to Salerno, highlighting his central role in the international narcotics trade.

 Unraveling a Complex Illicit Network

Investigative efforts by Cecilia Anisi, post al-Kayali’s return to Syria, have unveiled an extensive network, particularly his establishment of Neptunus near the Latakia port in partnership with Mustafa Al-Haj Hussein. The interception of the “Nouka” ship by the Greek Coast Guard, filled with Captagon and hashish, and revelations about Mahmoud Al-Daj’s role in Libya waiting for the shipment, reveal a sophisticated web of illicit trade spanning multiple countries and involving high-risk operations.

 Conclusion: The Intersection of Organized Crime and Political Power

Taher al-Kayali’s comprehensive profile illustrates a figure at the intersection of organized crime and political power. His continued operations within Syria, despite facing international sanctions, underscore a persistent challenge in combating the fusion of crime and governance. His adeptness at leveraging connections and expanding his business ventures amid sanctions exemplifies the complex battle against networks that influence both the economic and political landscapes in the Middle East and beyond, highlighting the enduring and multifaceted nature of such engagements in regional and global contexts.


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.

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