LONDON: Sanctions just lately imposed by US and UK authorities on two cousins of President Bashar Assad and several other Syrian and Lebanese figures mirror rising worldwide alarm over their function in manufacturing and trafficking Captagon, estimated to be price as much as $57 billion to the Syrian regime.
Captagon is a extremely addictive amphetamine used all through the Center East, with 80 p.c of the world’s provide produced in Syria. Multibillion-dollar shipments of the drug routinely depart regime strongholds such because the Port of Latakia.
In a recent Deep Dive published in February, Arab Information delved into the darkish underbelly of the Captagon business, talking to recovering addicts, sellers, traffickers, well being professionals, and border officers concerned in clamping down on the illicit commerce.
“Syrian President Bashar Assad’s relations and associates depend on the illicit drug commerce to fund his regime’s violent oppression and fee of abuses towards the Syrian individuals,” Vedant Patel, the State Division’s deputy spokesman, mentioned on Tuesday.
“The people and entities being designated right this moment have enabled the Syrian regime to proceed finishing up abuses towards the Syrian individuals by offering funds to the regime derived from commerce in illicit medicine.
“Captagon trafficking by the Assad regime, Hezbollah and their associates poses a big menace to stability, public well being and rule of legislation within the area.”
Commerce within the drug is a monetary lifeline for the Assad regime throughout 12 years of civil conflict, sanctions and diplomatic isolation. In response to UK authorities, the enterprise is price roughly thrice the mixed commerce of the Mexican cocaine cartels.
The Assad regime, Lebanese militia Hezbollah, and different Iranian-backed teams within the area are all recognized to facilitate the Captagon business, and in doing so gas regional instability whereas making a rising habit disaster.
American and British authorities introduced the brand new sanctions on March 28, concentrating on two of Assad’s cousins, Samer Kamal Assad and Wassem Badi Assad, over their function within the drug commerce.
In response to the US Treasury, Samer Kamal Assad owns a manufacturing unit within the coastal metropolis of Latakia that produced 84 million Captagon capsules in 2020 alone.
“Syria has develop into a world chief within the manufacturing of extremely addictive Captagon, a lot of which is trafficked via Lebanon,” Andrea Gacki, the senior Treasury official dealing with sanctions, mentioned in an announcement.
“With our allies, we’ll maintain accountable those that help Bashar Assad’s regime with illicit drug income and different monetary implies that allow the regime’s continued repression of the Syrian individuals.”
The checklist contains senior regime officers facilitating the commerce, to the producers of the drug, and key Hezbollah associates liable for trafficking it throughout the Center East.
Others focused within the sanctions embody Nouh Zaitar, Lebanon’s most well-known drug lord who’s on the run from authorities, and Hassan Dekko, a Lebanese-Syrian drug kingpin with high-level connections in each international locations.
Below the US Treasury motion, the US will block any belongings on its soil held by the alleged drug traffickers and can make transactions with them a criminal offense. The sanctions additionally represent an asset freeze and UK journey ban on the people involved.
“The Assad regime is utilizing the income from the Captagon commerce to proceed their marketing campaign of terror on the Syrian individuals,” Lord Tariq Ahmad, the UK minister of state for the Center East, mentioned in an announcement.
“The UK and US will proceed to carry the regime to account for brutally repressing the Syrian individuals and fueling instability throughout the Center East.”
Recognizable by the distinctive twin half-moons emblem, which supplies the drug its Arabic avenue title, “Abu Hilalain,” “Father of the Two Crescents,” the capsules are simple to make, available and comparatively low-cost to purchase.
Up to now six years, Saudi authorities have seized a complete of 600 million Captagon capsules on the nation’s borders, together with extra within the first quarter of 2021 than in the entire of the earlier two years.
Virtually 120 million capsules had been seized in 2021, and in August 2022 alone the authorities intercepted a document single haul of 45 million capsules.
One of many largest latest hauls was in October, when nearly 4 million capsules had been found in a cargo of bell peppers in Riyadh, resulting in the arrest of 5 suspects, within the capital and Jeddah.
Intercepting the medicine on the border is simply half the battle towards Captagon, which can be being fought by medical professionals at devoted therapy facilities throughout Saudi Arabia. Fortunately, addicts in Saudi Arabia have the chance to grab the lifeline provided by organizations such because the Kafa Society.
• $57bn Estimated worth of the Captagon commerce to the Bashar Assad regime.
• 80% Proportion of the world’s provide of Captagon produced in Syria.
• 5%-10% Approximate quantity of Captagon intercepted by Gulf authorities.
Many younger individuals flip to Captagon to assist preserve them awake throughout intense intervals of examine and exams or to carry down jobs with lengthy or delinquent working hours.
As soon as addicted, some customers will flip to avenue crime with a view to feed their behavior, or deal with it as a gateway to more durable substances. Within the course of, the habit can destroy relationships, careers and educational potential, and might result in arrest, hospitalization and even demise.
Captagon has been discovered to trigger confusion and temper swings, starting from anxiousness and excessive despair to impatience, irritability and emotions of anger or rage.
Much more worryingly, it additionally endows some customers with an indifference to ache and worry and a harmful sense of invincibility — qualities which have reportedly led to the drug being adopted by the foot troopers of Daesh and different terror teams within the area.
In 1981, amid rising proof of widespread habit and misuse, together with its use as a performance-enhancing drug in sports activities comparable to biking and soccer, Captagon was banned by the US Meals and Drug Administration.
In 1986, Captagon’s authorized run lastly got here to an finish when the World Well being Group listed fenethylline as a managed substance below the 1971 Conference on Psychotropic Substances, to which Saudi Arabia has been a signatory since 1975.
Since then, the drug has not been produced, offered or prescribed legally wherever on the planet. However within the shadows, legal gangs had noticed a worthwhile alternative and counterfeit variations of Captagon quickly began appearing within the Center East and elsewhere.
At the moment, the overwhelming majority of the tens of thousands and thousands of capsules flooding the Arabian Peninsula yearly are manufactured in Syria with the lively involvement of the Assad regime.
In response to a report printed in April 2022 by Washington assume tank the New Strains Institute for Technique and Coverage, war-torn Syria has develop into “the hub for industrial-sized manufacturing.”
It provides that “parts of the Syrian authorities are key drivers of the Captagon commerce, with ministerial-level complicity in manufacturing and smuggling, utilizing the commerce as a way for political and financial survival amid worldwide sanctions.”
The federal government “seems to make use of native alliance constructions with different armed teams, comparable to Hezbollah, for technical and logistical help in Captagon manufacturing and trafficking.”
Caroline Rose, a senior analyst at New Strains, informed Arab Information there was little question that “Captagon is being produced and trafficked by an array of people which might be very near the Assad regime, a few of them cousins and kin of regime members.”
Most notable amongst them, she mentioned, was “Bashar Assad’s brother, Maher, who has been affiliated with manufacturing and smuggling efforts in his function as commander of the Fourth Armored Division.”
This navy unit has been related to a various vary of financial actions linked to Syria’s wartime financial system, together with the gathering of levies from merchants and smugglers at checkpoints arrange at worldwide border crossings below regime management.
On Sept. 20, 2022, the Syrian regime’s function within the drug commerce was formally acknowledged when the US Home of Representatives handed H.R. 6265, the “Countering Assad’s Proliferation Trafficking and Garnering of Narcotics (CAPTAGON) Act.”
The Act requires the US authorities “to develop an interagency technique to disrupt and dismantle narcotics manufacturing and trafficking and affiliated networks linked to the Bashar Assad regime in Syria.”
Talking on the Home flooring in help of the Invoice, Consultant French Hill mentioned that “along with usually committing conflict crimes towards his personal individuals, the Assad regime in Syria is now changing into a narco-state.”
Captagon, he added, “has already reached Europe and it is just a matter of time till it reaches our shores.”