Syrian businessmen accused of oil smuggling linked to luxury tourist project

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A company linked to the Katerji brothers who are accused of smuggling oil for the Syrian regime has won a contract to develop a luxury tourist complex in Tartous.

On Monday, pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan reported that the Tartous City Council approved a contract to develop a hotel at the Tartous marina after only one bid was made for the potentially lucrative project.

While Al-Watan did not name the winning company, a smaller pro-Assad outlet, Syria Home News, identified the company as Arman Hotel and Tourism Management.

According to business outlet Al-Iqtisadi, the firm’s owners include three relatives of Syrian member of parliament Hussam Katerji and his brother Mohammad. In September 2018, the US sanctioned Mohammad Katerji for helping the Syrian regime smuggle oil and weapons.

Months later, the EU sanctioned Hussam Katerji for supporting the Syrian regime with trade deals related to oil and wheat. The two brothers control the Al-Katerji Company, which is involved in a number of economic sectors. 

The Tartous project includes a five-star hotel as well a marina for yachts, Al-Watan reported. The newspaper added that the build-operate-transfer contract will be valid for 45 years, after which the Tartous City Council will take control of the luxury facilities. 

The decision to award the contract to a company linked to Arman Hotel and Tourism Management has come under controversy. On May 21, a pro-regime journalist living in Tartous wrote an angry Facebook post blasting its decision.

When it sanctioned Mohammad Katerji in 2018, the US accused the Syrian businessman of conducting “business with ISIS in the petroleum sector, working directly with ISIS representatives to provide oil products for ISIS.”

“Katerji has a strong working relationship with multiple officials within the Government of Syria, to include several contracts with the Syrian Ministry of Oil and Syrian Ministry of Trade,” the US Department of the Treasury added in a press release. 

In June 2019, the US Department of the Treasury said that the brothers’ Al-Qatirji Company was linked to a Lebanese front company helping smuggle Iranian oil to Syria.

Reports in the last two years indicate that Al-Qaterji Company is also involved in the smuggling of oil to regime-held areas from eastern Syrian areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Al-Qaterji Company, also known as the Al-Qaterji International Group, owns several firms engaged in a number of sectors, including tourism, petroleum, transportation and import-export.

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