Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gives an interview with Cuba's official state news agency Prensa Latina in Damascus on July 20, 2016. The Biden administration sanctioned his government and others on Tuesday for drug trafficking. File Photo by the Syrian Arab News Agency/EPA
March 28 (UPI) -- The Biden administration announced new sanctions Tuesday against the Syrian government and drug traffickers from Lebanon for the production and distribution of illegal drugs to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Treasury Department said it was sanctioning the Syrian government for the production and export of the dangerous amphetamine captagon, which it claims has "become a billion-dollar enterprise" for Syria.
The department said the drug's distribution has been facilitated by Lebanese drug traffickers, some with ties with to the Iran-backed, U.S.-designated militant group Hezbollah.
Syrian has been able to overcome years of Western sanctions in its brutal takedown of anti-Assad foe during Syria's long-running civil war that dates back to the Arab Spring in 2011.
Biden administration officials said that al-Assad's family and his associates rely on proceeds from the illicit drug trade to fund the regime's violent oppression and commit abuses against their own people.
"Syria has become a global leader in the production of highly addictive captagon, much of which is trafficked through Lebanon," Andrea Gacki, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.
"With our allies, we will hold accountable those who support Bashar al-Assad's regime with illicit drug revenue and other financial means that enable the regime's continued repression of the Syrian people."
Individuals named in the sanctions included Khalid Qaddour, a Syrian businessman and close associate of Assad family; Samer Kamalal-Assad, a cousin of Assad and oversees key captagon production facilities in regime-controlled Latakia, Syria; Wassim Badi al-Assad, an Assad relative who leads the Ba'ath Brigades militia; and Imad Abu Zureik, who leads a Syrian Military Intelligence-affiliated militia.
Lebanese named in the sanctions included Hassan Muhammad Daqqou, a leading trafficker in the country; and the companies Hassan Daqqou Trading and Al-Israa Establishment for Import and Export for trading in captagon.
"As a result of today's action, all property and interests in property of these persons that are in or come within the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC," the Treasury Department said. "In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50% or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked."
In conjunction with the U.S. move, Britain on Tuesday sanctioned 11 Syrians involved in the production and sale of captagon, a highly addictive amphetamine that is one of the drugs of choice in the Arab world.
British officials said 80% of the world's supply of captagon is produced in Syria and shipments leave regime strongholds.
"The UK and U.S. will continue to hold the regime to account for brutally repressing the Syrian people and fueling instability across the Middle East," Tariq Ahmad, Britain's' minister of state for the Middle East, said in a statement.
Last May, the Jordanian army shot down a drone from Syria filled with illegal pills, which have increased sharply over the past three years.