Rami Makhlouf maintained more than 50,000 Syrians in full employment, but the Syrian president is now distancing himself from his cousin ( Getty )
When the men in white socks came to take an interest in Rami Makhlouf, it meant many things to many people. Arab security cops always wear white socks – the Israelis prefer old baseball caps – but in Syria the men in white socks are usually there to protect the loyal, the wealthy, the elite, and President Bashar al-Assad himself.
But Makhlouf’s fall from grace, swift as Icarus but slow in coming, had been on people’s tongues for months. Since last October, in fact, when his companies seemed to acquire a certain Russian flavour.
Pleasant thought it was – even romantic — to believe that Vladimir Putin had grown tired of the family oligarch who stained the Assad family, and wanted to see an end to the business career of the president’s maternal cousin when Syria owed Russia so much money, this was not true. Makhlouf’s business, some of it invested into Syrian security service outfits, found itself doing too much business with Russian companies. The Damascus-Moscow treaty of friendship may be 40 years old, but it was never supposed to support private deals between Syrian militia companies and Russian servicemen. Rami Makhlouf had pushed the rules too far.