An American philanthropist is under fire for flattering comments he made last year in support of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, which were revealed by emails hacked by the Anonymous collective.
Bobby Sager, chairman of Polaroid and founder of the Sager Family Traveling Foundation and Road Show, wrote to Assad's adviser Bouthaina Shaaban that international media distorted and aggrandised the uprisings in the country and the government's reaction to the events.
"The Syria that I spent last week in does not resemble the sensationalist images that are endlessly played and replayed by the international media,'' he wrote on 25 March, 2011. "Of course there are demonstrations and things that need to be changed, but is the relevant story that thousands of people are demonstrating?"
He continued by saying he felt "privileged" to be able to consider the spin doctor Shaaban and Assad as friends.
"What is important now is for committed friends to be vocal in their support of President Assad's leadership," he said. "I will take my first-hand understanding into the world and argue loudly and convincingly that President Assad, far from being the problem, is actually the most critical part of the solution."
Hundreds of emails from the embattled president's ministerial office were leaked earlier this week by the Anonymous.
The hacktivists stole and published email details from over 78 inboxes belonging to Assad's aides and advisers.
Sager told The Boston Globe this week that the purpose of his trip had been "to see whether I could stimulate positive, constructive change by encouraging Syrian leadership to be open-minded about change.
"I am very disappointed to see that such a change has not come and I am greatly saddened to see the escalation in violence in the 11 months since my visit,'' he said. "I have not advocated on behalf of the Syrian government to anyone at any time."
Sager, who made his fortune by turning a small Boston jewellery liquidator into a global financial advisory firm, has created charitable foundations with the Dalai Lama and the musician Sting. He has also set up programs to train female doctors in Afghanistan and arrange microloans for women who survived the genocide in Rwanda to start small businesses, The Boston Globe reported.