French court jails Syrian president’s uncle over property fraud

Rifaat al-Assad gets four-year sentence and has more than €100m in assets seized

 A TV grab of Rifaat al-Assad, the exiled brother of Syria’s former president Hafez al-Assad, in 2000. Photograph: Arab News Network/AFP via Getty Images

A TV grab of Rifaat al-Assad, the exiled brother of Syria’s former president Hafez al-Assad, in 2000. Photograph: Arab News Network/AFP via Getty Images

 

The exiled uncle of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was found guilty on Wednesday of acquiring French property worth millions of euro using funds diverted from the Syrian state, and sentenced to four years in prison.

The French court ordered the seizure of all of Rifaat al-Assad’s property in France – which judicial sources estimate are worth €100 million – as well as a property worth €29 million in London.

Rifaat al-Assad (82) has lived in exile, mostly in France, since the mid-1980s, after being accused of trying to seize power from his brother, then-president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father. He previously commanded troops accused of killing thousands of people to crush an Islamist uprising in 1982.

French judicial authorities suspected him of having unduly acquired property in several countries between 1984 and 2016 with funds from Syria. He repeatedly denied the allegations and said he acquired his wealth as a gift from the Saudi king.

The French court also ordered him to pay €30,000 to the anti-corruption organisations Sherpa and Transparency International France, which first filed a legal complaint against him in 2013.

“This ruling shows that nobody escapes justice and there is no impunity,” Sherpa’s lawyer Vincent Brengarth told reporters.

Among the properties that will be seized is a mansion on the prestigious Avenue Foch in Paris.

“It’s an extremely harsh decision that seems unjustified,” Assad’s lawyer Benjamin Grundler told reporters, adding that he would appeal. “There are no funds of Syrian origin in this case. All funds are legitimate.”

He will not be sent to prison pending the appeal.

In 2017, Spanish authorities seized more than 500 Spanish properties from him, worth about €700 million, as part of a Franco-Spanish money-laundering operation. – Reuters