French court sentences Bashar al-Assad’s uncle for embezzlement2 min read

-Azra Rizvi

On Wednesday Rifaat al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s uncle was sentenced to four years in prison by a Paris court for embezzling Syrian state funds to buy millions of dollars’ worth of property throughout France and the United Kingdom.

The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s uncle, Rifaat has lived in exile, primarily in France and Spain, since being accused of trying to seize power from his brother in 1984. Rifaat’s brother was former President of Syria Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s father, who led Syria from 1971 until he died in 2000.

Rifaat had led a failed revolt against his brother in 1984 which had compelled him to flee Syria and live in exile. When Hafez died Rifaat tried to name himself as his brother’s legitimate successor. However, Rifaat failed to garner significant support in the country and Bashar was chosen as his father’s successor instead.

Rifaat has been nicknamed the “Butcher of Hama” for allegedly leading the abominable and cruel suppression of anti-government uprisings in the city in 1982, which resulted in the deaths of at least 10,000 people. However, Rifaat has maintained that he played no role in that massacre and denied any allegations relating to it.

French authorities had been suspecting for a long time that his enormous fortune may have been acquired illegally. Despite Rifaat’s denials that the Saudi King provided his resources, these suspicions continued.
The French court’s ruling on Wednesday seized his assets in Paris and London which is estimated at greater than 100 million euros. The French authorities have already seized several other luxury properties. The court also ordered Rifaat to pay 30,000 euros to the anti-corruption NGO Sherpa. Anti-corruption NGO Sherpa had first filed a legal complaint against Rifaat in 2013, prompting this investigation.

In December, Rifaat was hospitalized for internal bleeding and was not in court for the ruling. It is also unlikely for the 82-year-old to serve his sentence due to his ongoing medical complications and his advanced age. His lawyers have already confirmed that he will appeal while the court has ordered that Rifaat should not be sent to prison until the resolution of his appeal.

More than 500 Spanish properties were seized by the Spanish authorities from Rifaat. Those which were seized as part of a joint money-laundering investigation between France and Spain have been estimated to be worth 700 million euros.