“Eloma”: Assad-and-Wife shell company to seize Syrian aviation business
Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa
Since the beginning of July, there has been talk about a future investment in Damascus International Airport by a private company whose name was mentioned in the media only, without the Syrian regime’s official comment.
Enab Baladi tacked the name of the company that was mentioned in a government newspaper and its data published in the Official Gazette to find out who is behind it.
In this report, Enab Baladi reveals the company details, its founders, and those behind it, and tries to find out the impact of the economic privatization that the regime has been pursuing for years on key vital sectors of the war-torn country.
Half partner for all airports
On July 2, the state-run al-Baath newspaper quoted sources in the Syrian Ministry of Transport as saying that a private company “whose name at the time has not been disclosed” will invest in Damascus International Airport, with stakes that will be distributed between 51% for the Public Syrian Airlines Corporation and 49% for the partner investor.
The sources indicated that the investing company will bear the responsibilities that the sector provides for work in civil aviation, such as carrying out all works and services related to air transport of passengers and goods and owning, buying, renting, and investing in aircraft.
It will also undertake the organization of flights and their services and ground services, take agencies from airlines, and open branches inside and outside Syria, in parallel with entering the field of ground services by securing the necessary equipment, trucks, cranes, and ground vehicles that serve the movement of arrivals and departures.
According to al-Baath newspaper, the main items that will be focused on are the need to secure maintenance and rehabilitation by the partner in coordination with the capabilities and capacities of the technical staff and expertise possessed by the Damascus airport.
The private investor bears the responsibility for securing the capabilities and means of logistical support for the work of the technical crews belonging to the airport’s human capital.
In later clarifications, the same newspaper published that the company’s investment is not related to the airport’s area “because it represents the sovereignty of the state,” but rather to the commercial “Syrian Airlines Corporation,” given the difficult working conditions of this company and the reality of the readiness of the aircraft it owns, which do not exceed the number of fingers on one hand, as there are difficulties in securing spare parts to carry out the required maintenance and rehabilitation of these aircraft.
The newspaper of the ruling party, al-Baath, indicated that the issue is still in the process of discussion and study between the airline and the “Eloma Investment Company, the anonymous private shareholding.”
Through this information, it becomes clear that the next investment will not be in Damascus airport only but in all Syrian airports used by the Syrian Airlines Corporation.
The Syrian Airlines Corporation was established in 1946 with two Cessna master aircraft and began operating flights between Syrian airports in the governorates of Damascus, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, and then Qamishli. In 1975, its name was changed to “Syrian Arab Airlines” by a presidential decree.
Its second article provides for the creation of a public corporation called the “Syrian Arab Airlines Corporation,” whose main headquarters is in the governorate of Damascus and is linked to the Minister of Transport.
$300 million for 20 years
In a letter sent by Eloma Company to the Ministry of Transport on January 4, it presented its investment plan, which included injecting investments of $300 million over 20 years, to invest in:
- Purchasing and maintaining aircraft, engines, and spare parts and bringing the fleet to 20 aircraft.
- Raising the capacity of ground operations to serve more than 25,000 flights annually for all national and foreign carriers.
- Raising the number of passengers to more than 3 million annually.
- Rehabilitation of the aircraft catering center to provide more than 10,000 meals per day.
- Rehabilitation of the maintenance center to provide maintenance services, reconstruction operations, and rehabilitation of the training center.
- Adding a flight simulator to train Syrian and foreign pilots.
- Adjusting salaries and compensations and raising them for all national groups and levels.
In return, the company will receive 20% of net revenues in the first ten years of investment, and it will be raised to 25% of net revenues in the second ten years.
New company with obscure founders
On November 24, 2022, the Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection ratified the Articles of Association of the “Eloma Investment Private Joint Stock Company,” according to a decision seen by Enab Baladi. It was published in the second part of the fifth issue of the Official Gazette for the year 2023.
The company said its goal is to manage and invest in establishments that work in the field of tourism and airport services, to enter bids and auctions with the public sector, to buy stocks and shares in all types of companies, to participate or contribute to their establishment or to participate in their management, and to own land and real estate necessary to achieve the goal of the company, with the exception of housing construction, selling and trading them.
The company’s capital is 100 million Syrian pounds (about $10,000). It is owned by three unknown persons who hold Syrian nationality in close proportions. They are Ali Mohamad Deeb (34) with a 33% stake, Razan Nizar Hamira (32) with a 33% stake, and Ramia Hamdan Deeb (42) with a 34% stake.
About five months after the incorporation decision, the Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection decided to ratify the decision of the extraordinary general assembly of the Eloma company, which included unanimous approval to amend the company’s purpose by adding the following activity to it represented in managing airlines and airports, according to a decision seen by Enab Baladi, which was published in the second part of Issue No. 20 of 2023 of the Official Gazette.
Bashar and Asma al-Assad behind it
The director of the Syrian program at the Observatory of Political and Economic Networks, Dr. Karam Shaar, told Enab Baladi that Eloma company was established to take over the aviation sector in Syria, which achieves two main purposes for the regime:
The first is temporary and related to an attempt to bypass Western sanctions against Syrian Airlines, which has exclusive rights to operate all airports, and is the exclusive earner in return for operating operations, including contracts with foreign companies, landing costs at the airport, and other procedures, said Dr. Shaar.
The second purpose behind the establishment of the company, according to Shaar, is related to the privatization of the company and the transfer of its revenues from the government to the pockets of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, and his wife Asma al-Assad directly, in an attempt to swallow the public sector.
Upon reviewing the Official Gazette and examining the establishment of a number of companies, it becomes clear that the names of the unknown founders of the Eloma company, including Ramia Hamdan Deeb, are linked to businessman Ali Najeeb Ibrahim, as the two share in no less than eight companies, Shaar revealed.
On the other hand, Najib Ibrahim shares with Yassar Ibrahim a number of shell companies that have no real existence in the business world and were established to implement the orders of the Republican Palace.
Yassar Ibrahim, an Assad aide, works in the presidential palace and is one of the people who have great relations in the economic sector with Asma al-Assad.
In March 2022, The Guardian revealed that the “Syrian regime is setting up shell companies in a systematic attempt to avoid sanctions,” according to official documents obtained by the veteran newspaper.
The report that was prepared by Dr. Shaar and Tessa Fox revealed that “complicating the ownership structure of businesses in Syria increases the complexity in untangling the role they have in bolstering the regime’s finances and makes it more difficult for foreign powers to impose sanctions effectively on the government’s inner circle.”
Among the involved businessmen were Ali Najeeb Ibrahim and Yassar Ibrahim.
Yassar Ibrahim, a new name in air services
In partnership between the Syrian Mustafa Abdul-Razzaq Hussein with a 40% stake, the Syrian Abdul-Qader Zakaria Shaqifa with a 40% stake, and the Ziyara Tourism Company with a 20% stake, Stars Airlines Limited Liability Company was established, according to what was stated in the second part of Issue No. 11, issued on the 16th of last March.
Yassar Hussein Ibrahim founded the Ziyara Tourism company, which owns a stake in Stars Airlines, and is the assistant to the regime’s president. He runs the company and owns 50% of its shares.
The goal of the company is to carry out all work related to services and information related to air transport of passengers and goods to and from Syria and owning, buying, renting out, renting, and investing in aircraft.
It is also concerned with providing advisory services, organizing flights and their services and ground services, taking agencies on behalf of airlines and opening branches inside and outside Syria, and owning land and real estate necessary for the company’s purposes, except for building, selling and trading houses of any kind.
“Secret council” led by Asma al-Assad
A report by the Financial Times revealed that Asma al-Assad heads the “secret economic council” of the Syrian regime and works in it with the participation of businessmen and people close to the regime, according to interviews conducted by the newspaper with 18 people familiar with the work of the Syrian regime, including heads of companies, relief workers, and former government officials.
The report indicated that Asma al-Assad plays a prominent role in corruption in Syria and controls the exhausted Syrian economy, and her influence appears in many sectors of the Syrian economy, including real estate, banking, and telecommunications, according to the report pointing out that this presence is hidden using fake companies of the Syrian regime’s partners.
In contrast to the official economic committee of the government, the work of the “Secret Economic Council” does not appear outside the gates of the Republican Palace, and it carries out asset confiscation operations secretly, as one of its most prominent actions is the seizure of the money of the Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of the head of the Syrian regime, and this included Damascus Cham Holding, and Syriatel, the largest telecommunications network in Syria, in addition to the Makhlouf Charitable Foundation.
According to the report, Asma al-Assad’s circle of economic relations includes many names, including Yassar Ibrahim, Fares Kallas, Secretary General of the Syria Trust for Development, Luna Alshebel, media advisor to the head of the Syrian regime, and Syrian businessman Khader Ali Taher.
In addition to Lina Kinayeh, who previously headed Asma al-Assad’s office, and Dana Bakhour, who appeared during al-Assad’s recent visit to the UAE.
Monopoly and law circumvention
The former dean of the Faculty of Economics in Quneitra governorate, southern Syria, Rasha Sirop, said on her personal Facebook account that if the project related to the investment of Eloma company is implemented in the proposed formula, then this means several things.
Among them is the transfer of the monopoly of aviation services in all Syrian airports from a public institution to a private institution under the name of “management and investment.”
Professor Sirop added that this type of facilities, when invested by private parties (may be foreign or foreign in Syrian dress), threatens national security, considering that this is not a socialist slogan based on a stereotypical ideological mentality.
The “alleged partnership” between Eloma and Syrian Airlines came under the name “Investment, Development, Management, and Operation of the Syrian Airlines Corporation.” The partnership was not explicitly mentioned.
Sirop justified this by saying that partnership contracts have a series of clear procedures contained in Law “5” of 2016, which stipulates in one of its articles that it is not permissible for a public institution to contract an investment with a private sector without soliciting bids, that is, through tender (meaning that it is not permissible conducting any direct contract or consensual contracts as applied in the Unified Contracts Law 51 of 2004), unless the Ministry of Transport and Syrian Airlines wish to bypass the law, according to the former dean.
Law No. 5 of 2016 on regulating partnerships between the public and private sectors defines partnership as a contractual relationship for a specified and agreed-upon period of time, between a public entity and a partner from the private sector, according to which the private partner invests in one or more of the following businesses:
Design, construct, implement, maintain, rehabilitate, develop, manage, or operate a public facility or project for the public entity.
The aim is to contribute to the provision of a public service or any service in the public interest directly to the public contracting authority or on its behalf to the final beneficiary.
Considering that public establishments, institutions, and utilities are public property, transferring the management of the public sector to a private partner, under any name and investment formula, requires the approval of the Public-Private Partnership Council headed by the regime’s prime minister, on projects that can be included in the partnership law.
Also, the Partnership Office in the Planning and International Cooperation Authority must have studied the proposed projects for partnership and express an opinion on their feasibility in terms of three points, according to Sirop.
These three points are represented in the initial qualification, i.e., verifying with companies or persons wishing to manage public utilities about their eligibility to submit offers in terms of previous experience in the same field and the extent of their financial and technical competence, human resources, and technologies available to them.
In addition to announcing the project and soliciting bids by qualified bidders, and finally, the contract that comes after negotiation by the public body with the winning bidder, as the form of the partnership contract is reached, which is presented through the partnership office to the partnership council for ratification.
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