Tracking Bashar Al-Assad’s Alleged Money Laundering Network in Sayari Graph

Written by Ahmed Zuhairy

February 5, 2020

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Ammar Sahloul holds shares of Firstone International worth 40,000,000 Turkish Lira (~$6.7 million). Ammar’s stake is worth 400,000 Turkish Lira (~$61,000). Sayari apologizes for the error.

A Jordanian national suspected of laundering millions for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad maintains a wide corporate network across the Middle East, according to findings by Sayari analysts.

The US State Department believed Jordanian national Zuhair Sahloul to be a money launderer for the Assad regime in 2008, according to a leaked cable. The cable asserts that Zuhair uses his international network of currency exchange and transfer companies to quickly move millions of dollars outside Syria on Assad’s behalf. State Department officials suggested, at the time, that Zuhair be sanctioned, in a subsequent cable.

Since 2011, the U.S. Treasury has sanctioned 414 people and 107 entities linked to the Syrian government – Sahloul has not been one of them.

Using corporate records available in Sayari Graph, Sayari analysts confirmed that Zuhair is connected to a massive corporate network outside of Syria, spanning Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and the U.K. Analysts also found several businesses that Zuhair is involved in beyond money transfer and exchange.

Using Electoral Registrations and Corporate Records to Disambiguate Individuals

A quick search in Sayari Graph for Zuhair reveals a Zuhair Yessar Lutfi Sahloul – his full name – listed as the shareholder, manager, or director of numerous Jordanian companies.

Yessar Sahloul & His Children Co., one of the companies associated with Zuhair, lists a Yessar Lutfi Abdu Sahloul. Given the company’s name, as well as Arabic naming conventions, it is highly likely that Yessar is the father of Zuhair Yessar Lutfi Sahloul, as well as the other shareholders who appear to be Zuhair’s brothers.

 

Fig.1: A snapshot from Sayari Graph shows Zuhair as a shareholder on multiple Jordanian companies.

Additionally, the Jordanian electoral register reveals that Yessar was born in 1931. Zuhair was born and registered in the same neighborhood 31 years later, further supporting the evidence that they are father and son. To bolster this disambiguation, analysts compared news article photos to that of a Jordanian business co-op page.

Using the same methodology, analysts disambiguated five other Sahlouls on the licenses – five siblings and one nephew who appear on companies in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and the UK.

International Footprint

Sayari analysts identified Zuhair’s brother, Ammar Sahloul, as a shareholder of the Turkey-based company Firstone International, in the Turkish Commercial Gazette. Ammar holds shares of Firstone International worth 400,000 Turkish Lira (~$61,000), according to the gazette.

Recalling the Jordanian business co-op page from earlier, this company is listed as the shipping company, this time written as First One International. First One’s website lists an office in Turkey. At the listed address in Turkey, Google Street View shows an international shipping company called Tiba. However, Tiba’s Facebook page lists the same website as First One International.

Fig. 2: A snapshot from the Turkish Gazette showing Ammar Sahloul as a shareholder on Firstone International.

Lebanese corporate records reveal a second Yessar Sahloul & His Children Co., which lists Muaataz Sahloul, another one of Zuhair’s brothers, as well as two Syrian nationals carrying the same family name.

Meanwhile, UK corporate records show a Kingdom Corporate Limited, with Ammar and two British-Syrian partners – Alaaeddin and Fadi Kamar – as directors. Although the corporate records actively list the two as British nationals, a 2005 tax filing lists their nationality as Syrian.

Fig. 3: A snapshot from Sayari Graph showing the related parties of Kingdom Corporate Limited.

If we further scrutinize the records for Kingdom Corporate Limited, more questionable links to Syria become evident. For example, Ammar Sahloul listed his residential address as “Ghassan Street, Hariqua, Damascus, Syria.” This is the same neighborhood and street of Sahloul Group International, Zuhair’s Damascus-based, global money exchange and transfer business – the primary vehicle through which Zuhair allegedly moves millions of dollars for Assad.

The ability to access public data from opaque and hard target jurisdictions is crucial for tracking illicit financial activities and understanding the risks posed by international networks linked to sanctioned entities. Using Sayari Graph to expose the Sahloul network is but one case highlighting the efficacy of Sayari’s data in achieving this aim.

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