Expecting the Syrian people to overthrow the president… Khaddam: Close associates of Assad have stolen more than 20 billion dollars.

publisher: المستقبل Mustaqbal

Publishing date: 2006-01-14

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Former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, who is living in exile in Paris, told the magazine “Le Nouvel Observateur” that close associates of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have stolen more than 20 billion dollars in Lebanon and Syria.

He said to the French magazine, “In presidential circles, the stolen funds in Lebanon and Syria exceed 20 billion dollars.” He added that the Lebanese President Emile Lahoud had “told Bashar that another president (other than him) will necessarily open the file of Bank Al-Madina or the file of transferring Saddam Hussein’s funds to Lebanon.”

Khaddam, who has been continuing his media campaign against the Syrian regime since last December, pointed to the “involvement of Lahoud and the Lebanese and Syrian security apparatus” in corruption in Lebanon.

Regarding the assassination of the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, he confirmed that he had advised Hariri repeatedly to leave Lebanon. He said, “Ten days before his assassination, I met Hariri in Beirut and told him: submit your resignation and leave abroad, to which he replied: I have elections, I can’t.” Khaddam added, “The elections were approaching, and Hariri, who was close to the opposition, kept repeating, ‘Lebanon cannot be ruled against Syria, but it should not be ruled by it.’ That statement is what got him killed.”

The following is the text of the interview:

What led you to say that Damascus is involved in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri?

  • In the summer of 2004, two months before the extension of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud’s term, I had a dialogue with President Bashar al-Assad at 9 o’clock in the morning. He seemed tense and said, “I called Hariri at 7:30 this morning. He is conspiring against us. I told him that we didn’t work to get him to the prime ministership to appoint an anti-Syrian Lebanese president! Not to mention his relationships with France, the United States, and Saudi Arabia! Hariri denied it, but Bashar told him: Be careful! I decide who will be the president of Lebanon, and anyone who opposes my decision, I will crush.”

I said to President Bashar, “Hariri is an ally, you know how much he has served Syria. But not under your service!” Then Bashar told me to invite Hariri to Damascus to fix the matter. In reality, when Hariri left the meeting with Bashar, he was very tense and bleeding from his nose. I personally escorted him to my office for treatment.

Another example: In October 2004, I was in a party meeting discussing Resolution 1559. President Assad said, “This resolution is the work of (French President Jacques) Chirac, Hariri, and the Americans. Mr. Hariri is rallying his Sunni sect around him and conspiring against Syria. It’s a serious matter.”

This is the atmosphere. I told Hariri several times to leave Lebanon. And ten days before his assassination, I met him in Beirut and told him: Resign and leave abroad. He answered me: We have elections, I can’t.

What is the main reason behind the assassination of Hariri?

When President Bashar wanted to extend Lahoud’s term by two years, Hariri opposed it, as did all Lebanese people, the Syrian people, and the Arab world… The whole world was against this decision! But Lahoud and the Lebanese security apparatus were involved with the Syrian security apparatus in corruption in Lebanon. At the heart of this corruption, there is President Bashar, his brother Maher, and his brother-in-law Assef Shawkat. Lahoud told Bashar that another president (other than him) will necessarily open the files of Bank Al-Madina or the file of transferring Saddam Hussein’s funds to Lebanon. The elections were approaching and Hariri, who was close to the opposition, kept repeating: “Lebanon cannot be ruled against Syria… nor ruled by Syria.” This last statement is what got him killed.

So, was the issue then a cover-up for corruption?

The amounts stolen in Lebanon and Syria by the presidential circles exceed 20 billion dollars.

The mysterious suicide of the former head of Syrian security apparatus in Lebanon, Ghazi Kanaan…

I believe they pushed him to commit suicide. Without a doubt, they threatened him with trial, imprisonment, and destruction. He was supposed to appear before the (international) investigation committee outside Syria; they undoubtedly feared him speaking and never returning to Syria.

What is the current situation of governance in Syria?

It will fall. Bashar has failed in all areas. The economic crisis is worsening, poverty and unemployment are increasing, public freedoms are receding, the police are active, and a single statement can land you in prison.

Who is leading Syria, Bashar? Or Bashar under the supervision of the old guard?

There’s no one left who witnessed his father’s era except for me, but he doesn’t listen to anyone! Quick to anger, sharp, and acts before thinking, he alone makes decisions.

What is the situation of the opposition?

Public opinion is active against the regime, but the opposition, under pressure, hasn’t been able to express itself openly. Even within the Ba’ath Party, a group will take the path of opposition after my departure. What matters to me is saving Syria through two goals: liberating it from the current regime and establishing a democratic system. And the process must remain secretive. I don’t want to facilitate the work of the Syrian security apparatus.

Will you form a government in exile?

Why not? This is something that will be discussed with certain Syrian figures.

What role will you allocate to the “Muslim Brotherhood”?

The “Muslim Brotherhood,” who historically exist, form a Syrian Islamic party. And they have the right, just like the “Ba’ath,” to participate in political life…

Are you calling for protests in the streets? For a peaceful revolution?

Bashar will fall. The people will work to bring him down! I am against military coups. With the Syrian people taking to the streets, I am confident that the military won’t act. Bashar’s position is fragile.