A key aide of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is to be awarded a prestigious degree by one of Britain’s top universities.
Lamis Omar has been studying for a doctorate at Durham, and is likely to receive her PhD in September.
Emails obtained by the Wikileaks website suggest that Ms Omar enjoys a close friendship with Assad.
Fellow students say she had a large picture of the dictator on the wall of her home in the university grounds.
Last night, officials at Durham University refused to say whether the institution has accepted money from the Assad regime in tuition fees.
The emails appear to show that for the past four years, Ms Omar, who is believed to be in her mid-30s, has been working in Assad’s own department, known as the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.
In more than 800 email exchanges between the pair, a picture emerges of a world of poetry and jokes, cocooned away from the bloodshed engulfing Assad’s country.
They appear to have a close friendship, in which he buys her gifts and she repeatedly says that she ‘loves’ him. In the emails she refers to Assad, who has been married to British-born Asma, 37, for 12 years, as the ‘sponsor’ of her course.
Tory MP Robert Halfon said: ‘Ethical questions need to be asked as to why Durham University is providing an education to a member of the Assad regime.
Given the murder of thousands of Syrians by the Assad regime, Durham should reconsider whether it awards this PhD.’
The emails were among a tranche of 2.5 million obtained by Wikileaks, a controversial website that publishes leaked documents.
They were apparently written by Syrian officials and politicians, as well as Assad himself. The documents, which for the most part are written in English, reveal that Ms Omar’s official role was to translate Assad’s speeches.
At Durham, her PhD thesis was on Shakespeare.
Last night Durham University said: ‘We do not comment on the financial circumstances of individual students. Durham University does not have any formal or active links with the Syrian Government.’
Ms Omar could not be contacted despite repeated calls.
And a spokeswoman for President Assad said she would obtain a response to the allegations. She had not done so by the time we went to press.
…And Peer who designed his garden is revealed
A member of the House of Lords charged thousands of pounds to redesign the summer palace of Bashar al-Assad, emails obtained by Wikileaks reveal.
Lord Kenilworth was hired to create a luxuriant new garden, including a spectacular water feature, at the Syrian dictator’s country residence near the coastal city of Latakia, the site of fierce fighting between government forces and rebels.
The peer’s work was so highly valued he was invited to a formal meeting with Assad’s British-born wife Asma. But as violence engulfed the country, the relationship appears to have soured.
Last July, Lord Kenilworth, 56, sent Assad’s office an invoice for £24,000. Two months later, he emailed a member of Assad’s inner circle, asking if he had ‘had a chance to find out when we might be able to receive payment’.
The peer, known professionally as Randle Siddeley, has run a landscaping business since the mid-Eighties.
The firm was commissioned by Assad in 2010. Initial stages of the work were priced at £176,500, with more bills to follow.
Last night Lord Kenilworth said only: ‘We stopped working there 18 months ago. I can’t comment any further.’
a photograph that was sent to president Bashar al Assad on December 11 last year by a woman who is not his wife.