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Bashar Assad's Uncle on Trial in France on Graft Charges

Bashar Assad's Uncle on Trial in France on Graft Charges

Monday, 9 December, 2019 - 06:15
Rifaat Assad. (AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
The uncle of Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad is set to go on trial in Paris Monday on charges of building up a property empire in France using funds from Syrian state coffers.

Rifaat al-Assad has been under investigation in France since 2014.

This year, an investigating magistrate ordered he stand trial for organized money laundering in building a 90-million-euro ($99.5-million) property portfolio in France.

But the dock will be empty: the 82-year-old accused -- younger brother of Syrian ex-president Hafez Assad -- will miss the trial "for medical reasons", his lawyers told AFP.

The trial, scheduled to last until December 18, concerns crimes allegedly committed between 1984 and 2016, including aggravated tax fraud and misappropriation of Syrian funds.

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.

Dubbed the “Butcher of Hama”, 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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