Exodus of Businessmen From Syria

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Syrians gather with their belongings on the rebel controlled side of the Bustan al-Qasr checkpoint in the district of Aleppo on February 3, 2014. (AFP - Baraa al-Halabi).

By: Ziad Ghosn

Published Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Damascus – Media reports have accused some Syrian businessmen of evading settling billion-lira loans to local banks, while others are under fire for funding armed opposition groups. Amid this renewed media campaign, businessmen who fled Syria are once again in the spotlight.

There are no clear estimates on how many businessmen have left Syria to live and work abroad since the beginning of the crisis. The head of the Syrian Businessmen Assembly in Egypt told Al-Akhbar that, according to some statistics, 50,000 businessmen left Syria during the crisis, 30 percent of whom headed to Egypt. This number rises if small business owners and local merchants are taken into consideration.

According to the Egyptian Investment Ministry, Syrians topped the list of foreign-owned companies in the country for 2012, owning a total of 365 investment companies out of 939 established that year. Meanwhile, Syrian investments in Egypt range between $300 million and $500 million. In Jordan, Syrian companies totaled 702 in the first 11 months of 2013, compared to 317 companies in 2012.

Kidnappings and Losses

Many factors have prompted this exodus of businessmen from Syria, including mounting security concerns. Damascus Chamber of Commerce member, Bashar al-Nouri, told Al-Akhbar that most businessmen who left Syria were afraid of kidnappings targeting their families. A report from the Syrian Commission on Financial Markets and Securities further stated that board members of most companies are currently outside Syria due to the crisis.

Kidnappings for ransom have hit regions under government and opposition control. In many cases, kidnappers killed their victims even after receiving the ransom. Factories have been sabotaged, while others in hot zones have been put of out of business.
Syrians have moved their investments abroad to compensate for their losses, counting on their products’ reputations in foreign markets.

According to engineer Fares al-Chahabi, chairperson of the Syrian Union for Chambers of Commerce, damages to private industrial institutions are estimated at $50 billion. In addition, some businessmen announced their opposition to the regime, a number of them going further and supporting armed opposition groups. Such claims were confirmed through precautionary seizures of some leading businessmen assets.

However, sources in the Syrian Finance Ministry said, “Precautionary seizures against people accused of supporting terrorism are limited compared to the total number of precautionary seizure decisions issued so far."

Though the idea of local funding for armed groups might be debatable, Nouri insisted that Syrian businessmen don’t have enough funds to support such activities.

Recently, several news websites accused some businessmen living abroad of evading repaying loans they received from Syrian banks before the crisis. However, Nouri called to distinguish between businessmen unable to repay their loans due to financial troubles and “imposters” who exploited aspects of the crisis to receive loans in exchange for real estate guarantees, which were worth only 30 percent of the loans.

Amid the escalation of violence and the destruction of infrastructure, it seems a bit too soon to talk about the return of the billions of dollars that have left Syria over the last 33 months. They say capital is coward; if true, then capital in Syria is terrified.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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