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France to Try Bashar Assad’s Uncle for Fraud

France to Try Bashar Assad’s Uncle for Fraud

Wednesday, 17 April, 2019 - 18:15
Rifaat Assad. (AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
The uncle of Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad is set to appear before a French court over corruption charges.

Rifaat Assad. 81, will stand try for allegedly acquiring millions of euros worth of French property assets using funds diverted from the Syrian state, a judicial source said on Wednesday.

French judicial authorities suspect him of having unduly acquired real estate in several countries with funds from Syria.

An investigating magistrate ordered him to stand trial for organized money laundering in building the 90 million-euro ($102 million) property portfolio in France, according to the order for the trial seen by AFP.

A lawyer for Rifaat Assad declined to comment.

In a written decision dated March 8, seen by AFP, the office of the financial crimes prosecutor called for Rifaat Assad to stand trial for laundering the proceeds of aggravated tax fraud, embezzling Syrian state funds, and failing to register French security and cleaning staff.

Rifaat Assad, who splits his time between France and Britain, denies the charges.

After he arrived in Europe, his lavish lifestyle, four wives, and 16 children soon raised eyebrows.

His reported French fortune includes two Paris townhouses, one measuring a vast 3,000 square meters (32,000 square feet), as well as a stud farm and a chateau near the French capital, and 7,300 square meters (79,000 square feet) of office space in Lyon.

Most of that was bought in the 1980s through offshore companies in Panama, Curacao, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.

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

Rifaat Assad is a former military commander, widely held responsible for crushing an uprising in 1982 against then-president Hafez Assad, Bashar’s father. Many thousands were killed.

He turned against the regime in 1984 after a power struggle over who would succeed his older brother, Hafez.

He has previously called on his nephew to step down as Syrian leader, although in past interviews has also criticized Syrian opposition groups. Le Monde newspaper has previously estimated his wealth at 160 million euros.

Anti-corruption organizations Sherpa and Transparency International France first filed a legal complaint against him in 2013.

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