Mohammed Hamsho: “Corruption” With Multiple Bodies, But One Head
Mohammad Hamsho’s, the Syrian businessman, going up the ladder in the 1990s, arrival into enormous economic sectors and the rapid growth of his companies harmonize with the direct link he has with Maher al-Assad, the son of the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and his business’s association with the corruption plagued in Syria, which prompted the U.S. government to consider imposing economic sanctions on Hamsho since 2009, before having them applied in 2011, adopting the EU strategy that did not separate the regime’s activities from those of its “independent” economic aides.
“Muhammad Hamsho earned his fortune through his connections to regime insiders, and during the current unrest, he has cast his lot with Bashar al-Asad, Mahir al-Asad and others responsible for the Syrian government’s violence and intimidation against the Syrian people,” said by the Under Secretary of the US Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen in a news release announcing the sanctions imposed on Hamsho on August 4, 2011.
“The sanctions we are applying today to Hamsho and his company are the direct consequence of his actions,” he added.
Accusations of corruption and immediate association with Syrian regime
The U.S. government had studied thoroughly slapping sanctions since 2009 on Hamsho, according to leaks published by Wikileaks, for “engaging in and facilitating public corruption by senior officials within the government of Syria.”
Hamsho was one of Syria’s first businessmen to get sanctioned by the European Union (EU) on June 24, 2011, in the aftermath of the government’s crackdown on peaceful protests calling for reform, which began in March of the same year.
Despite Hamsho’s objection to the European sanctions and getting them temporarily lifted up, he was placed on the EU’s sanction list again. The measures include freezing his funds and preventing him from entering the EU’s countries.
The sanctions, thus, banned him from traveling to London in 2012 to see his 19- year- old son, Ahmad compete in the Olympic equestrian event, representing Syria. Ahmad, who was studying in the UK, denied the accusations leveled against the Syrian regime, saying that “I personally do not think the regime is doing anything wrong, as [some] are accusing it. My government is only protecting people from gunmen.”
In April 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department issued its first sanctions against Syrian officials for committing “human rights violations in Syria,” as Maher al-Assad was sanctioned for the leading role in the Syrian regime’s actions in Daraa, where protesters had been killed by Syrian security forces under his command.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Treasury did not sanction Hamsho till August 2011 based on his “corruption” and serving as “a mask” for senior Syrian officials’ illegal financial and business transactions, adding that the members of the Syrian business community think that “Hamsho is a successful businessman due to his relationship with the Syrian leadership rather than his business acumen.”
Multiple bodies, but one head
Mohammad Hamsho, born in Damascus in 1966, studied electrical engineering at the University of Damascus, and obtained an MBA in 2005 from the Higher Institute of Business Administration (HBA).
Hamsho has been the Secretary of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce and the Secretary of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce since 2014. He is also the director and founder of the Mineral and Melts Board, which was formed in 2015 and ultimately got associated with the “reconstruction” process.
Further, Hamsho has been a member of the People’s Council of Syria (the Syrian parliament), representing Damascus since 2016, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Hamsho International Group which has roughly about 20 subsidiary or affiliated companies and the Chairman of the Syrian-Chinese Businessmen Council as well.
Besides, Hamsho is the Managing Director of al- Shahba Investment and Tourism Company and the Director-General and Co-Founder of al- Shahba Telecom, Dawa Company, Hamsho Investments, Tatweer LCC and Saif al-Sham, according to al Iqtisadi website.
He is a founding partner of the Sham Medical Care, Saif al- Sham Machinery, Dawadix and Jupiter Investments, which despite the sanctions, established office spaces and facilities for the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces (UNPF) serving in the Golan Heights, located between Syria and Israel, having won two contracts worth more than $1.5 million, according to a 2016 UN report.
He was a board member of Cham Printing Company, then he became its director in August 2018, in addition to owning Syrian Art Production International (SAPI) and participating in managing multiple sports activities. The U.S. Treasury stated that “[Hmsho] has interests in nearly every sector of the Syrian economy. He is a close business associate of Mahir al-Assad and has served as a front man for him and a number of Assad’s businesses.”
Hamsho’s International Group has interests in the production of metalware, distributing construction, equipment, electrical machinery and chemicals, as well as civil contracting for water, oil, gas, and petrochemicals, and working in real estate and infrastructure projects.
Hamsho is also involved in commerce of communication materials, computers and their equipment and in provision of internet services. Moreover, Hamsho International Group is engaged in the ownership and management of hotels and resorts; car rental; distribution of carpets; animal farming and trade in horses; printing services; and production of ice cream.
Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper, mentioned that “Hamsho was responsible for money laundering for Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq two decades ago, and also signed the oil agreements between Iraq and Syria before the war against Iraq, when Saddam’s republic was hit by international sanctions.”
New position and efforts at “reform”
Hamsho exploited his connections trying to reach out to mainstream Syrian opposition and its factions in the beginning of the transition into armed action and worked to mediate between them and the regime’s forces.
The Saudi Arabian Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper quoted some activists of the Syrian Opposition as saying that Hamsho contacted the leaders of the hot spots in Daraa, Duma and several areas in Rif Dimashq at the beginning of the revolution, and met with Sheikh Moaz Al-Khatib, the former president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces in 2013, but the coalition denied that.
Hamsho drew attention when criticizing, in January 2017, the procedures of “forced conscription” taken by the Syrian regime, considering it a major reason for the migration of “national experiences that industrial establishments lost,” in a statement during a meeting of the Confederation of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Agriculture, the Craftsmen Association and Syrian Exporter Union with the Prime Minister of the Syrian regime’s government Imad Khamis.
Then, he proposed “the creation of an internal allowance that contributes to the return of national experiences to the country, and the preservation of those who stayed, in addition to providing the treasury with the foreign currency provided by the allowance payers at the rate of exchange ruling at the Central Bank of Syria.”
Hamsho’s gaining management position at the Chambers of Commerce and his membership in the People’s Council of Syria made him the leading representative of the Syrian regime, and his activities ranged from opening trade fairs to receiving foreign delegations and concluding trade deals.
He signed memorandums of understanding with Tehran for cooperation between the two countries in various fields of trade, investment, economics and production in the beginning of this year and Hamsho headed the Syrian trade delegation to the UAE earlier this year, in the first step of normalization with the Syrian regime, which led to “improving” the cooperation between businessmen in the two countries.
Despite the Syrian regime’s sustained efforts to display its “triumphs,” since it regained control over large areas that were controlled by the opposition factions last year, it failed to persuade Western countries to fund Syria’s reconstruction and push them towards economic openness with Syria which remains subject to the “political change” according to US and European statements.
The regime’s economic interfaces are still crippled by sanctions and foreign prosecutions, in addition to being vulnerable to an uncertain future as they are linked to individuals and entities internationally accused of crimes and violations against the Syrian people.