Payment App Launched by Daughter of Assad Facilitator in Moscow

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The following is an English-language version of Levant Network research prepared for Akhbar Alaan

The daughter of one of the Syrian government’s alleged financial middle-men in Moscow has helped launch a new payment app in Russia, an investigation by Akhbar Alaan has found.

On February 10, Sputnik News Arabic-language’s outlet reported that Sandra Khuri, a “young woman of Syrian descent,” entered into the business world by participating in the founding of Sendy, a cashless payment initiative.

While Sputnik provided biographical information on Sandra Khuri, saying she was born in Russia to a Syrian family and educated in the UK, the outlet did not name her famous father.

Sandra Khuri’s Instagram account, which shows her wealthy life-style enjoying travel in the Gulf, Lebanon, and western Europe, offers several pictures of herself next to her father. Al-Aan cross-referenced these photos to determine she is the daughter of Mudalal Khuri, who was sanctioned by the US in 2015. 

Sandra Khuri with her dad, Mudalal, who was sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury in 2015. (image via Instagram)

“Khuri has had a long association with the Assad regime and represents regime business and financial interests in Russia,” the US Department of the Treasury said in a press release at the time.

According to the US, Mudalal Khuri has been “linked to financial transactions in which the Government of Syria had an interest as early as 1994.” 

Washington also sanctioned Russian Financial Alliance Bank for being owned or controlled by Mudalal Khuri. The bank has since closed down. 

Sandra Khuri has followed in her father’s footsteps in Russia’s finance sector. Her company advertises that its app offers users the ability to make payments by scanning QR-codes onto their mobile phone.

Sendy, which is operated by the Russian-registered firm OOO Digital Pay, also claims it supports instant cross-border money transfers. Sendy has already moved beyond Russia, signing partnership agreements with the popular WeChat and AliPay mobile payment apps in China.

International organizations, including the World Bank, have hailed the rise of new payment methods, including mobile payment systems, for their technological potential, including integrating the under-banked into the global financial system.

However, the Financial Action Task Force Group, an international organization combating illicit finance, has warned that mobile payment systems present risks by facilitating money laundering and terrorism financing. 

In her interview with Sputnik News, Sandra Khuri said that Sendy wants to further grow its global presence. The entrepreneur claimed that Sendy was working on a project with a large company aiming to foster cooperation between mobile payment apps developed by Asian, Russian, British and European firms. 

Brian O’Toole, a former senior sanctions official at the US Department of the Treasury, told Al-Aan Television that it is “definitely not unfair to be concerned that such a payments network could have substantial sanctions risk.”

“It is quite common for parents to use their children to hide corrupt assets, evade sanctions, or for other illegal schemes,” O’Toole added.

Sandra Khuri’s father is not the only member of her family targeted by the US. Her uncle, Atiya, was sanctioned in July 2016 for using the Moneta Transfer & Exchange to move money between Syria, Lebanon and Russia for the Syrian Central Bank.

Atiya Khuri also helped the Syrian regime pay for fuel imports using his money exchange, according to the US Department of the Treasury.

Atiya Khuri worked with Sandra’s father, Mudalal, to coordinate financial deals for the family of Rami Makhluf, the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the US added.

Another one of Sandra Khuri’s uncles, Imad, was also sanctioned by the US in July 2016 for working with her father.

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