Syrian businessman long allied with Assad calls on him to put end to dismantling his charities

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf, a cousin and long-time ally of President Bashar al-Assad, appealed on Tuesday to his relative to stop what he described as security forces dismantling charities that served the poor among loyalists in Syria’s civil war.

Rami Makhlouf, once widely considered part of the president’s inner circle and Syria’s leading businessman, said in a Facebook post that a lifeline was being cut that supported thousands of war veterans and families of pro-Assad militia members backing the army in the decade-long conflict.

Makhlouf accused the powerful security forces of abetting the stripping of assets from charities owned by his holding company, Ramak Development and Humanitarian Projects, and selling them to corrupt politically influential businessmen.

“They have turned to robbing these humanitarian bodies and its projects by selling their assets ..,” Makhlouf said in his social media posting.

Syrian authorities were not immediately available for comment on Makhlouf’s allegations.

Throughout the war that began in 2011, U.S.-sanctioned Makhlouf had helped Assad evade Western sanctions on fuel and other goods vital to his military campaign. He said this year he financed many of the militias that fought alongside the regular army.

“I sent a letter today to Assad to put in his hands this matter to help restore the rights to these poor who have only these charities and their projects to take care of them,” Makhlouf said.

Since late April Makhlouf has taken to Facebook with messages and videos that have appeared to expose a rift here within the ruling Alawite elite over allegations by the Syrian government that Makhlouf has hidden money overseas.

The Syrian government has not commented on Makhlouf’s allegations he was being politically targeted by the powerful security agencies.

The businessman, who had helped bankroll the ruling family had companies that spanned telecoms, energy, real estate, banks and hotels, looms large over Syria’s economy.

The authorities stripped him of his ownership of Syriatel SYEL.DS mobile operator. It has frozen his assets in leading firms and put a ban on his travel.

The United States imposed sanctions on Makhlouf before the war for what Washington calls public corruption and exploiting his proximity to power to enrich himself “at the expense of ordinary Syrians.”

(This story refiles to correct typographical error in headline - businessman instead of businessmen)

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Grant McCool