An influential pro-Assad figure in Homs sanctioned by the EU for war profiteering has recently entered into the Syrian tourism sector, his latest business foray in the war-torn country.
On March 2, the Al-Iqtisadi business journal reported that Saqr Rustom co-founded September Investment and Tourism LLC, a Homs-based firm licensed to construct and operate tourism facilities and malls.
The EU blacklisted Rustom on February 14, saying that he took advantage of his position as head of the National Defense Force paramilitary force in Homs to conduct “multiple war profiteering schemes.”
According to the EU, Rustom was the head of the Homs branch of the National Defense Force (NDF), which was formed in 2012 by the Syrian government to provide supplemental staffing for its military efforts.
Syrian Observer published a profile of Rustom in 2019, saying that he had been transferred out of Homs following a conflict with the local governor and appointed as the secretary general of the NDF in Damascus. Pro-Assad media, for its part, has not mentioned that Rustom assumed a new position in the NDF.
Rustom serves as the chairman of the board of trustees of the Martyrs Foundation of Syria, a charitable organization that has controversially partnered with the UN. Human Right Watch has warned that the Syrian government was co-opting international aid for its own purposes.
“The Syrian government has developed a policy and legal framework that allows it to co-opt humanitarian assistance and reconstruction funding to fund its atrocities, advance its own interests, punish those perceived as opponents, and benefit those loyal to it,” the organization said in a June 2019 report that brought up the Martyrs Foundation of Syria.
Beyond his role in the Martyrs Foundation of Syria, Rustom — a civil engineer by training — went into business with his uncle Bassam Hassan to form the Damas Real Estate Development and Investment LLC firm in 2017.
“As an advisor to Assad, Al-Hassan is involved in weapons procurement for the Syrian military and meets with foreign government representatives. Additionally, Al-Hassan is the Syrian Presidential Representative to the SSRC,” the US Department of the Treasury said in 2014.
Hassan had reportedly built close ties with Qassem Soleimani, the late head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force, who was assassinated by the US in January.