Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

Exiled uncle of Bashar Al Assad to face trial in France

The exiled “butcher of Hama” faces investigation and trial over embezzling state funds

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

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s purged uncle is to go on trial in France for using Syrian state funds that were used to buy up property and fund a lavish lifestyle in Europe.

Rifaat al-Asaad will face charges of money laundering in propping up 90 million euros worth of property in France.

According to AFP, prosecutors called for Mr Assad to stand trial for tax fraud, embezzling Syrian government funds and failing to register French cleaning and security staff.

Mr Assad denies the charges against him. The date of the trial is yet to be set.

The 81-year-old former vice president left Syria in 1984 after a failed coup against younger brother and father of Bashar, Hafez al-Assad.

After Hafez al-Assad died in 2000, Rifaat, from a villa in Spain, tried to proclaim himself the legitimate heir to the presidency, but his bid went nowhere and power quickly passed to Bashar al-Assad.

Bashar’s uncle has only emerged in public on brief occasions.

His fortune reportedly includes two Paris townhouses, as well as a farm and chateau near the French capital, and 7,300 square meters of office space in Lyon.

He and his family also own over 500 properties in Spain. These were seized by Spanish authorities in 2017.

Spain’s National Court called the assets “a fortune from the coffers of the Syrian state.”

“In the 1980s, his brother and then-president expelled him from the country, fearing that he would organise a coup,” the court said, referring to Rifaat al-Assad. “There are indications that he handed over more than $300 million from state coffers,” said a statement by the court written in April 2017

“With that money,” the court added, “he settled in France, where in 1984, he started to buy real estate. The investigation carried out by the French judicial authorities led to the conclusion that this fortune, embezzled from public funds, was used for personal gain and to the detriment of the Syrian state.”

Updated: April 18, 2019 05:03 AM

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