A Syrian businessman who has recently run afoul of the EU has business interests in neighboring Lebanon, a popular haven for wealthy and well-connected Syrians.
Eight Syrian nationals and two firms were blacklisted by the EU on February 17, among them Maher Burhan Eddine al-Imam, a top businessman with interests in Syria’s tourism, telecom and real estate sectors.
According to the EU, al-Imam “benefits from the regime and supports its financing and lobbying policy as well as its construction policy.”
Al-Imam’s business interests also extend to Lebanon, where in 2015 he founded TOP Projects Company SARL, according to a review of Lebanon’s online corporate register by Levant Networks.
The Syrian businessman serves as the general manager of the company and owns a majority of its shares along with two of his children and another Syrian national, according to the register.
Based in Beirut, TOP Projects Company SARL is registered to trade petroleum derivatives and the import and export of cars, heavy and light machinery as well as construction and contracting activities.
Al-Imam previously formed another Beirut-based company in 2013, registered for activities in the hospitality sector, but went on to sell his shares in the firm.
In late 2018, Al-Iqtisadi, a UAE-based business journal reporting on Syrian economic developments, dubbed Al-Imam as a Syrian expatriate in Kuwait, noting that he recently formed the Castro LLC firm for tourism investment. The EU sanctions package mentioned the company, but fell short of targeting it.
Top Syrian businessmen, most notably Rami Makhlouf and Samer Foz, have formed companies in Lebanon. Due to Syria’s underdeveloped banking sector and growing sanctions starting in 2011, many Syrian entrepreneurs turned to Lebanon for financing and a haven for their assets.
An early 2020 study commissioned by a Damascus University research center estimated that Syrians hold approximately $45 billion of Lebanon’s then $177 billion in total bank deposits.
As Lebanon’s economic and financial situation continues to worsen, leading to capital controls and a quickly devaluating local currency in secondary markets, Syrian businessmen have voiced fears over the security of their deposits in the country.