Voltaire network, Infosyrie, and Mr. Tlass*
*This article is an expansion on the auther’s original article found here (in Arabic).
With the departure of the brigadier general Manaf Tlass from Syria, details have emerged regarding his association with some pro-Assad propaganda websites operating from Damascus and Paris.
The obtained information, gathered for the-syrian.com, indicate that the Tlass family may have been assigned the task of funding certain french websites for the benefit of the Syrian regime since the year 2006 at the very least.
The two men at the core of this article are, Frederic Chatillon, and Thierry Meyssan.
A prominent member of the National Front party (FN), a french far right political party led by Mrs. Marine Le Pen with whom Mr. Chatillon has very close ties dating back to their time at law school, during which Mr.Chatillon was the leader of the far-right fascist student group “Groupe Union Defense” (GUD). Moreover, it is alleged that Mrs. Le Pen’s father, Mr. Jean-marie who was the founder of the (FN), is the Godfather of Mr. Chatillon’s daughter.
A french left-wing activest and a freelance journalist.
Known best for his controversial 2002 book entitled “the big lie” in which he claimes that the 9/11 attack was an inside job, Mr. Meyssan’s work is consumed with the conspiracy theory. This is also evident in his personal life as demonstrated by this video in which he was reporting to the russian TV station, RT, from Tripoli during the advance of the rebels. He tells the anchor that western reporters who stay with him in the same hotel are not all what they seem, and that they are in fact US agents under cover plotting to kill him.
The Voltaire network was founded and chaired by Thierry Meyssan in 1994 under the name “Le Réseau Voltaire pour la liberté d’expression”. The left-wing organisation was set “to promote freedom and secularism” and focused initially on the french internal affairs. However, in 1999 the organisation started “fighting” the imperialism on global levels, and sought links with like-minded international organisations.
In 2002 a group of senior members spoke out against Mr. Meyssan’s choices of allies, following his un-consulted meetings with the Lebanese ”Hizbulla” leaders. In early 2005 members of the administration council resigned due to the “drift” in the aims of the organisation, claiming that in the pretext of resisting the American imperialism, the network was actually leaning towards Russian and Chinese imperialisms, and breaking away from secularism by drawing close ties with islamist organisations.
The resignations of the admin council led to the eventual dissolution of the group, and Mr. Meyssan spent the next few months travelling back and forth to the middle east (Syria and Lebanon) trying to secure funds to relaunch his Voltaire network and sponsor his “axis for peace” conference that was due to take place later that year.
Mr. Meyssan’s attempt was successful and he was granted the needed funds to relaunch his voltaire network from Damascus, which he did in August 2005, with him in the chair and Mr. Issa El Ayoubi (from the Syrian Socialist National Party) as vice president. The newly formed organisation was named ”Réseau Voltaire International” and thus, has nothing to do with the original dissolved group.
On August 24th 2005 the “voltairenet.org” domain name was registered by a Syrian IT solutions company (name withheld for irrelevance) and the website was hosted on the Canadian server provider, Iweb, amongst other Syrian websites. the voltairenet.org replaced the previous dissolved group website, reseauvoltair.net.
By sponsoring the voltaire network, the Syrian regime aimed to add a new outlet to its existing chain of self proclaimed “independent” and “non-aligned” media websites, through which the regime channels/leaks fabricated reports to clean or enhance its image or position, and then quote these websites’ reports by its official media outlets in a bid to effect the public opinion. This “media laundry” scheme included websites like akhbarmontreal.net (now closed) and filkkaisrael to name but few.
Domestic propaganda websites were usually funded by Mr. Rami Makhlouf (the Syrian president cousin) directly or indirectly (through means of advertisement deal sponsorships by his business empire or through Mr. Mohammad Hamsho how was set the task of funding a series of TV, radio, and online domestic media firms). However, the task of funding voltair network and the personal expenses of its president Mr. Meyssan was assigned to the Tlass family (Munaf and Firas) since 2006 as part of the “off the book” elite taxation system (see below).
The uprising against the regime in Syria started in March 2011, and had a huge media coverage from both Arab and national media. The reports and emerging video footages caused great deal of damage to the regime image domestically and internationally. And in May 2011 a French website appeared on the net with the name “infosyrie.fr” which stated its mission as “to provide an alternative interpretation of the situation in syria” …”highlighting the tricks and falsifications generated by the western media and its arab allies”
The infosyrie website files show that it is registered for the “Riwal company” of 29 venous street paris. The company introduce itself as an “Agency that specializes in communication consulting, graphic design and event management”.
a quick look into the Riwal history shows that it was established in 1995 by no other than Frederic Chatillon with 3 partners initially. However by the year 2005 was owned by Mr. Chatillon and one other partner.
It is not clear how Mr. Meyssan and Mr.Chatillon came to know each others. and with the former being left-wing activest and the latter being the extreme far-right politician it’s even more puzzling. However, both had one thing in common that may shed a light on who they became friends.
In 2006 following the Israeli aggression on Lebanon, Mr. Chatillon organised a trip for 5 people including himself and Mr. Meyssan to Lebanon in order to show solidarity, knowing the fact that Mr. Myssan enjoys good relations with Hezbollah, with which Mr. Chatillon was trying to get in touch since 2001. Thus, Meyssan-Chatuillon connection could be quite the sort of relation built over Mr. Meyssans ideological anti-zionist views and Mr. Chatillon racial anti-Semitic views. or at least this is the auther’s prediction.
In that trip of 2006, the group took the route to Beirut through Damascus, where they stayed for 5 days during which Mr. Chatillon initiated links with some “second level” regime personals.
Fast forward to 2008 and another trip for Mr.Chatillon to Damascus. This time on business.
Following a very expensive but successful PR campaign in the united states, the Syrian regime wanted to tackle the land of the French post the Chirac-Era. Especially with the rising of right-wing Sarkuzy to power.
Thierry Meyssan recommended his new friend Chatillon for the job, and the Syrian regime decided to hire his efforts, allocating the task of funding the new PR campaign to the ones responsible for Mr. Meyssan’s expenses, i.e., the Tlass family as their share of “regime tax” over their financial activities in Syria, legal or otherwise.
With the help of Meyssan, Chatillon travelled to Syria and met with Manaf Tlass who asked him to integrate his forthcoming Syrian PR operation within the framework of his current Riwal Agency.
Few months later, Mr. Chatillon registered RiwalSyria as part of the Riwal Agency, and the capital of the mother company rocketed to 180 000 euros overnight. a website was launched for the new RiwalSyria in July 2008.
Riwal announced the opening of a branch in Damascus- Syria under the management of ”Mr. Thibault El Bakjaji”. However, the aforementioned person could not be tracked for the purpose of this article, suggesting that there was no such person in the Syrian branch, which turned to be a travel agency owned by Mr. (Gh.I) and operating from Al-Tajhiz area in Damascus (name withheld). Riwal France, meanwhile, had an employee among its staff of 19, with the name Thibaut but this proved irrelevant.
Since the initiation of RiwalSyria it represented the Syrian ministry of tourism in paris, and communicated with the ministry through (R. Q) in the ministry promoting department.
In 2011 Riwal registered and launched infosyrie.net for the benefit of the Syrian regime, and the website operating in the same manner described above for voltaire network and other regime propaganda websites. Thus, all its contents must be evaluated before citing it as references.
following the departure of Manaf Tlass from Syria, infosyrie.fr published a very mild article against its previous sponsor entitled “the road of the regime’s spoilt kid” in which it urged Mr Tlass “not to spit in the soup bowl he fed on” and shown confidence that the brigadier general will turn down the anti-regime opportunists who will be seeking the chance to speak to him.
Below is a video showing Mr. Chatillon during a pro-Assad rally that took place in paris last October (2011).