The moneyman of Bashar al-Assad received permanent residence permit in Hungary after having been put on U.S. sanction list

“Hungary’s Immigration and Asylum Office does not plan to carry out further investigations or to revoke the permanent residence permit of Salmo Bazkka and Atiya Khoury,” Zsuzsanna Végh, head of the immigration office told Hungarian MP Márta Demeter. Direkt36 and recently revealed in a joint investigation that Bazkka, a suspect of a serious international crime and Khoury, the moneyman of the Syrian dictator received permanent residence permit in Hungary through the country’s residency bond program.

After the publication of our article, Demeter announced that she would request further information about the two Syrians named in our article. Hungary’s Immigration and Asylum Office confirmed to Demeter that Atiya Khoury bought Hungarian residence bond in 2014 and, in exchange, he received a temporary residency permit the same year. Later, he also applied for a permanent residence permit, which he received at the beginning of 2017.

This date is significant as Khoury was put on the US Treasury Department sanction list in the summer of 2016. According to the sanction documents, Khoury owns and operates Moneta Transfer & Exchange, a financial services network that deals with currency exchange and cash transfers and has played an important role in maintaining Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Khoury is accused of moving cash between Syria, Lebanon and Russia.

The Immigration and Asylum Office said, however, that the other person named in our article, Salmo Bazkka, received a permanent residence permit already in 2010 and – contrary to what a close relative of his told Direkt36 – he did not buy residency bonds.

Márta Demeter’s request to look into the official documents related to the two Syrian’s status in Hungary was refused by the immigration office. The office did not give any information about the relatives of Bazkka and Khoury and did not say whether the family members purchased residency bonds.

According to Végh, Hungarian authorities found no risk during Atiya Khoury’s and Salmo Bazkka’s security screening and raised no objection against granting them Hungarian residence permit. She also said that the Immigration and Asylum Office does not plan to carry out further investigations or to revoke their permanent residence permit of the two Syrians in spite of the fact that Khoury is currently on a U.S. sanction list and Bazkka has become a suspected member of an international criminal network dealing with laundering and distributing money made from drug and weapon trade, and illegal migration. With Hungarian permanent residence permit, Khoury can currently move freely in the Schengen area, and Bazkka had the same possibility until his arrest last November.

Before the publication of our article, Direkt36 and 444 contacted all relevant state authorities including the Immigration and Asylum Office, but all of them denied giving any information on the status of Khoury and Bazkka.

After the publication of our article, the Ministry of Interior issued a press release stating that “the article of and Direkt36 is far from reality and only aims to cause uproar ahead of the elections,” but did not refute any information of our article. According to the press release, neither of the Syrians named is on the sanction list of the European Union, but we did not state this in our article either. The Ministry of Interior added that “one of the individuals named in the article had already been living in Hungary during the government of Gyurcsány-Bajnai,” but it did not deny that he participated in Hungary’s residency bond program between 2013 and 2017.

Cover photo: Bence Kiss,