US, UK sanctions highlight role of Syrian, Lebanese figures in fueling Captagon addiction crisis

Sanctions imposed on Syrian-linked figures reflect growing international alarm over Captagon trafficking

LONDON: Sanctions recently imposed by US and UK authorities on two cousins of President Bashar Assad and several Syrian and Lebanese figures reflect growing international alarm over their role in manufacturing and trafficking Captagon, estimated to be worth up to $57 billion to the Syrian regime.

Captagon is a highly addictive amphetamine used throughout the Middle East, with 80 percent of the world’s supply produced in Syria. Multibillion-dollar shipments of the drug routinely leave regime strongholds such as the Port of Latakia.

In a recent Deep Dive published in February, Arab News delved into the dark underbelly of the Captagon industry, speaking to recovering addicts, dealers, traffickers, health professionals, and border officials involved in clamping down on the illicit trade.

“Syrian President Bashar Assad’s family members and associates rely on the illicit drug trade to fund his regime’s violent oppression and commission of abuses against the Syrian people,” Vedant Patel, the State Department’s deputy spokesman, said on Tuesday.

“The individuals and entities being designated today have enabled the Syrian regime to continue carrying out abuses against the Syrian people by providing funds to the regime derived from trade in illicit drugs.

“Captagon trafficking by the Assad regime, Hezbollah and their affiliates poses a significant threat to stability, public health and rule of law in the region.”

Trade in the drug is a financial lifeline for the Assad regime during 12 years of civil war, sanctions and diplomatic isolation. According to UK authorities, the business is worth approximately three times the combined trade of the Mexican cocaine cartels.

The Assad regime, Lebanese militia Hezbollah, and other Iranian-backed groups in the region are all known to facilitate the Captagon industry, and in doing so fuel regional instability while creating a growing addiction crisis.

American and British authorities announced the new sanctions on March 28, targeting two of Assad’s cousins, Samer Kamal Assad and Wassem Badi Assad, over their role in the drug trade.

According to the US Treasury, Samer Kamal Assad owns a factory in the coastal city of Latakia that produced 84 million Captagon pills in 2020 alone.

“Syria has become a global leader in the production of highly addictive Captagon, much of which is trafficked through Lebanon,” Andrea Gacki, the senior Treasury official handling sanctions, said in a statement.

“With our allies, we will hold accountable those who support Bashar Assad’s regime with illicit drug revenue and other financial means that enable the regime’s continued repression of the Syrian people.”

The list includes senior regime officials facilitating the trade, to the manufacturers of the drug, and key Hezbollah associates responsible for trafficking it across the Middle East.

Others targeted in the sanctions include Nouh Zaitar, Lebanon’s most famous drug lord who is on the run from authorities, and Hassan Dekko, a Lebanese-Syrian drug kingpin with high-level connections in both countries.

Under the US Treasury action, the US will block any assets on its soil held by the alleged drug traffickers and will make transactions with them a crime. The sanctions also constitute an asset freeze and UK travel ban on the individuals

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