Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

Assad relatives reveal activities in UK

Aunt and cousins of Syrian president were turned down for citizenship in UK

Former Syrian President Hafez Assad (R) with his younger brother, Rifaat, (L) in 1986. AFP
Former Syrian President Hafez Assad (R) with his younger brother, Rifaat, (L) in 1986. AFP

A wealthy aunt of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad was given the right to live in Britain - even as the UK stepped up support for the opposition to tackle the “barbaric crimes” of the regime, newly published documents reveal.

The 63-year-old woman is the fourth wife of Rifaat Al Assad, the man known as the “Butcher of Hama” for his role in commanding troops who killed up to 40,000 civilians in a brutal quelling of a Muslim Brotherhood rebellion in 1982.

She has lived in Britain for more than a decade along with two grown-up children. She was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK on August 9, 2012 despite Britain’s government ratcheting up pressure on her nephew’s regime.

The following day, then foreign secretary William Hague, announced that the UK government would provide Syrian opposition groups with an additional £5m to monitor and record human rights violations. “It is well recognised in the country that the situation in Syria is an affront to the conscience of humanity,” he said in a statement.

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Former Syrian vice president Rifaat Al Assad went into exile in the 1990s after falling out with his brother Hafez, the former president and father of Bashar, following an aborted attempt to seize control of the country.

The 81-year-old shares his time between the southern Spanish resort city of Marbella, Paris and London, where a number of relatives of the Assad family live, including the father of his British-born wife, Asma.

The 81-year-old is said to own hundreds of properties in the three countries including a £10 million mansion in London. He is reportedly under investigation for corruption and money laundering over the alleged misuse of Syrian state funds.

His family has criticised the French-led inquiry. He has previously said that much of his wealth was given to him by the Saudi royal family who backed him politically during the 1980s.

His fourth wife, to whom he has been married for 45 years, is named only as LA in published legal documents.

She moved to the UK in 2006 and was given entry after describing herself as an investor in “bonds, hedge funds etc”.

Details of her time in Britain emerged in a legal challenge against a decision by authorities to refuse UK citizenship for her, the couple’s two children and a third child of Rifaat Al Assad through another marriage.

One 43-year-old son is a founder of the Organisation for Democracy and Freedom and presents himself as a campaigner on human rights, the documents showed. He and his mother cannot be named for legal reasons.

They had both applied for citizenship but were rejected after several years of consideration by the UK government. The interior ministry said in 2016 that it was not in the public interest to grant the wider Assad family citizenship.

It said Rifaat Al Assad was “a well-known and prominent member of his brother’s regime during the 1970s and 1980s – a regime that is widely held to have committed crimes against humanity”.

Rifaat Al Assad, pictured in 2011, is being investigated by French authorities following allegations of corruption by campaigners
Rifaat Al Assad, pictured in 2011, is being investigated by French authorities following allegations of corruption by campaigners

It added: “Although it is not possible to assess the exact nature of your current relationship with Bashar Al Assad and the Syrian regime, it is noted that the regime has become inextricably linked over the last few decades with the extended Assad family.”

Further confidential advice from the UK’s foreign office is included in 37 pages of legal documents related to an appeal by the four last year, which highlighted concerns about continuing links between the regime and family members now living abroad.

The advice said that a house in Damascus was in constant use by some of Rifaat Al Assad’s children during the first year of the uprising. They were not identified.

The advice concluded that offering citizenship to his relatives would undermine the policy of working with Syria’s opposition to build a “credible alternative vision” for Syria’s future. It said that the decision would be seized on by critics of the government's policies towards Syrian refugees.

The current status of indefinite leave to remain allows LA to live in the UK and claim benefits but the right can be removed by long-term absence from the country. The documents said there were no grounds to revoke their leave to remain but would keep the cases under review.

The document was published by Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), the most secretive of UK law courts that hears immigration cases of foreign nationals that are subject to sensitive national security evidence.

Updated: January 2, 2019 07:38 PM

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