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Probe finds ties between Wafa Telecom and Iran

13 Dec 2022

An investigation carried out by NGOs the Organised Crime and Corruption and Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Observatory of Political and Economic Networks (OPENSyr) has found ties linking Syria’s newest telco, Wafa Telecom, with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Wafa was founded in 2017 and was awarded a licence in February this year but further details regarding the company and its shareholders were limited. The government stated that the company was Syrian-owned, but offered no further information. Reports at the time suggested that the company’s owners were influential businessmen with ties to the Assad government and that demands from Tehran for business opportunities in Syria would be satisfied by the award of vendor contracts to Iranian firms.

According to the OCCRP and OPENSyr, however, Wafa’s shareholders include international firms with ties to the IRGC and their report cites an unnamed Syrian businessman and former government official with direct knowledge of the sector as saying that the new telco is ‘a partnership between the Syrian government and the Revolutionary Guard.’ The report notes that when the company was founded, around 48% of its shares were held by Wafa Invest – a Syrian company co-founded by presidential aide Yasar Ibrahim, who has been sanctioned by the US and EU for acting as President Assad’s financial proxy. Wafa’s stake was later reduced to 28% and the remaining 20% was handed to state-owned operator Syrian Telecom. The other 52% of Wafa Telecom, the report notes, was held by Arab Business Company (ABC), which Syrian authorities claimed to be Syrian-owned. Contrary to this, a registry document obtained by reporters named ABC’s shareholders as a Syrian businessman and Malaysian-registered Tioman Golden Treasure. The latter, the report found, has extensive links through its current and past owners and senior officials to IRGC-associated companies and individuals, several of which are subject to international sanctions.

Prior to Wafa’s licensing, Syria had been under pressure from Iran to allow an Iranian-owned operator to enter Syria’s telecoms market as a means for Tehran to recoup some of the funds its had invested in supporting the Assad government. As noted by TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to that effect had been signed in January 2017 alongside a series of agreements regarding greater cooperation between the two countries. Plans to award a mobile licence to the Mobile Communication Company of Iran (MCI) were subsequently scrapped, reportedly due to security concerns.

Syria, Wafa Telecom

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