Messages behind EU sanctions against “Assad’s Captagon”

Tons of amphetamine tablets seized by the Saudi authorities were hidden inside a shipment of flour - August 31, 2022 (Twitter/General Directorate for Drug Control)

Tons of amphetamine tablets seized by the Saudi authorities were hidden inside a shipment of flour - August 31, 2022 (Twitter/General Directorate for Drug Control)


Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

The European Union issued on April 24 a new sanctions package that included a lengthy list of 25 people and eight entities linked to the Syrian regime. This was preceded by nearly a month of US and British sanctions against most of those affected by European sanctions.

The Western sanctions list came after many months of absence of Western moves in this regard and focused extensively on punishing people associated with the regime, who are unequivocally responsible for the production and smuggling of fenethylline, an amphetamine marketed under the brand name Captagon, on a large scale outside the Syrian borders, and for their role in supporting the regime economically through this trade which became his first source of money.

Associated with al-Assad 

The three sanctions lists are headed by the cousins of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, Wasim Badi’ al-Assad, and Samer Kamal al-Assad, for their participation in the production and trade of Captagon, and Noah Zaiter and Hassan Daqqou, who are involved in the Captagon trade in Syria, along with a number of people associated with the regime.

The lists included a number of businessmen, including Abd al-Latif Hamida, who maintains close relations with the Assad family and owns a factory in Aleppo that was involved in the production and trade of ​​the amphetamines drug, and Imad Abu Zreik and Mustafa al-Masalma (Al-Kasm), who are affiliated with a militia in southwestern Syria affiliated with the Military Security Branch, which its militias benefit from the war economy, including the Captagon trade.

It also included:

–        Raji Falhout, who leads a militia affiliated with military intelligence and is involved in the smuggling of Captagon.

–        Taher Kayali, who owns several companies through which he participates in the production and smuggling of Captagon, especially with regard to transportation from the seaport of Latakia.

–        Amer Khiti, who manages and controls many companies in Syria, which facilitates the production and smuggling of drugs.

–        Mohamad Shalish, who is involved in the shipping sector within the regime’s areas of influence, as his name has been linked to the Captagon shipments that left the port of Latakia.

Among the entities recently sanctioned was the Fourth Division headed by Maher al-Assad, the brother of the head of the Syrian regime, which is considered responsible for the violent repression against civilians in Syria, and also benefits from the war economy, especially the Captagon trade.

According to a study issued by the COAR Center for Operational Analysis and Research, at the end of April 2021, Syria has become a global center for the production of Captagon, and it is more industrialized and technologically advanced in this industry than ever before.

During the past years, reports by specialized authorities and press investigations based on evidence indicated the transformation of Syria by the Syrian regime and those close to it into a country for the production and manufacture of drugs and trade in them by exporting them to various countries of the world.

Captagon— it’s being billed as the drug that’s fueling Syria’s bloody war.


Many specialized studies have agreed that the volume of Syrian drug exports makes it one of the most important sources of foreign currency in Syria, as it strengthened the shadow economy, whose rate reached about 200% of the official economy during the year 2021, according to research estimates, while its rate was estimated in 2010 by about 20% of the gross domestic product.

Political messages

The first researcher in the Syrian Program for Legal Development, Iyad Hamid, told Enab Baladi that the recent Western sanctions carry political messages, the most important of which is that these countries have not forgotten the human rights violations in Syria, especially since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year dominated many files.

Hamid believes that the broad title of the recent sanctions packages came under the Captagon trade, and this coincided with the Anti-Captagon Act, which was signed by the US President, Joe Biden, at the end of last year, as the sanctions packages are imposed in coordination between the concerned countries.

This explains the intersection of many of the names of those involved in this trade with the three US, British and European sanctions lists, and at the same time, indicates a message that carries a clear Western consensus on this issue.

Hamid believes that the recent regional openness to the Syrian regime and the tragedy of the earthquake were the motives behind the West issuing the latest sanctions packages, with the aim of recalling the official Western position on the Syrian regime and normalization with it, after the recent Western exceptions aroused fears of the Western position.

A group of Arab countries are conducting political moves to rehabilitate al-Assad in the Arab world. This was evident after the devastating earthquake that struck four Syrian governorates on February 6, through several visits by foreign ministers of a number of Arab countries to Damascus, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.

In mid-April, a ministerial meeting that included a number of Arab ministers was held in Riyadh to discuss the position on the regime’s return to the Arab League. The meeting ended with a final statement that ignored the issue of return, indicating that no agreement was reached in this regard.

Symbolic effect

Punishing people close to the regime and businessmen linked to it who are involved in the production and trade of drugs in Syria is not considered sufficient to undermine the volume of its trade in Syria, which indicates that it has not achieved the full desired effect in reducing the volume of trade, as it sometimes does not exceed symbolic messages, according to researcher Iyad Hamid.

According to Hamid, combating drug trafficking, in general, requires a comprehensive strategy and regional cooperation to achieve the desired results.

In September 2022, the US House of Representatives approved what is colloquially known as the Captagon Act against drugs administered by the Syrian regime, and the House ratified it on December 8, 2022, with an overwhelming majority vote, after which the bill moved to the US Senate and then to US President Joe Biden, who signed the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included the “Countering Assad’s Proliferation Trafficking and Garnering of Narcotics Act.”

Experts with whom Enab Baladi spoke explained that the importance of the law lies in the fact that it mentioned al-Assad by name, and al-Assad has become “a fugitive of justice” instead of being a head of state, and in the near future, he may be subject to arrest and trial as a global drug dealer.

This happened historically before with Manuel Noriega, who was a leader in Panama and was previously arrested and tried by the United States of America as a drug dealer.



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