US slap sanctions on Syrian central bank chief, businessman

Washington (AFP) –


The United States on Wednesday slapped sanctions on Syria's central bank chief and 16 other people or institutions, part of a bid to prevent the war-ravaged country from normalizing under President Bashar al-Assad.

The United States ordered the freezing of any US assets of the central bank governor, Hazem Karfoul, and the other Syrians, with any financial transactions with them now punishable in the United States.

The US Treasury Department, which is widely targeting anyone affiliated with Assad, did not allege specific crimes by Karfoul but pointed to reports he tried to shake down businesses to contribute to state coffers.

"Those who continue to stand with the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad further enable its corruption and human rights abuses," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that sanctions against Syrian figures "will not cease until the Assad regime and its enablers take irreversible steps to end their campaign of violence against the Syrian people."

Among others designated by the Treasury Department are businessman Khodr Taher bin Ali and Husam Muhammad Louka, head of the General Intelligence Directorate, one of the country's spy agencies.

Taher was accused of being a key supplier for the army's Fourth Division including through the creation of a private security firm that has become the unit's "informal executive arm."

The Treasury Department said Taher also set up a telecommunications provider, Emma Tel LLC, in an apparent bid to counter Rami Makhlouf, a tycoon who has fallen out with his cousin Assad.

The State Department separately said it was designating three people or units over deadly air strikes three years ago in the town of Armanaz, in Idlib province near the Turkish border.

At least 34 Syrians died in the attack, according to the State Department's toll, as Russia backed Syria in operations against jihadists.

Assad has won back most of Syria after a brutal nine-year war that has claimed more than 380,000 lives and displaced millions.

Under the Caesar Act, a law that took effect in June, the United States is hoping to prevent any reconstruction effort or normalization of trade without accountability over atrocities under Assad.