French court sentences Rifaat al-Assad, uncle of Syrian president, to four years in prison

Screengrab of Rifaat al-Assad as he appeared on June 12 2000, on the Arab News Network (ANN), which belongs to his son Sumer.
Screengrab of Rifaat al-Assad as he appeared on June 12 2000, on the Arab News Network (ANN), which belongs to his son Sumer. © AFP |

A Paris court on Wednesday convicted Rifaat al-Assad, the uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to four years in prison after convicting him of money laundering and the misappropriation of Syrian government funds.

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Rifaat al-Assad, 82, did not appear in court, having been hospitalised in December after doctors diagnosed him with internal bleeding.

The court also ordered the confiscation of Assad's vast real estate assets in France, worth some €90 million ($100 million).

'Butcher of Hama' amasses wealth in Europe 

Assad, a former Syrian military commander, is widely held responsible for crushing an Islamist uprising in 1982 against his brother, Syria's then president Hafez al-Assad. Thousands were killed in the crackdown, according to human rights groups, earning him the moniker, "Butcher of Hama" .

He left his home country in 1984 after mounting a failed coup against Hafez, the current Syrian president's father, who led Syria from 1971 to 2000.

After arriving in Europe, Rifaat al-Assad's lavish lifestyle soon raised eyebrows.

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

He and his family also built up a huge portfolio of 507 properties in Spain, valued at around €695 million, Spanish legal documents show. All his properties in that country were seized by the authorities in 2017.

Assad has been under investigation in France since 2014.

The Syrian exile, who divides his time between France and Britain, denied the charges, maintaining the original complaint against him was filed by Syrian opposition figures with political motivations.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

 

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