France to try Syrian President Assad’s uncle on graft charges

Rifaat Assad

PARIS — The uncle of Syrian President Bashar Assad is to stand trial in France on charges of building up a big property empire in the country using funds from Syrian state coffers, legal sources said on Wednesday.

An investigating magistrate ordered Rifaat Assad 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.

Its date has yet to be set.

Rifaat Assad, dubbed the “Butcher of Hama” for allegedly commanding the troops that bloodily put down an uprising in central Syria in 1982, has been under investigation in France since 2014.

In a written decision dated March 8, seen by AFP on Thursday, the office of the financial crimes prosecutor called for 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.

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

Formerly Syria’s vice president, Rifaat Assad left Syria in 1984 after mounting a failed coup against his brother Hafez Assad, Bashar’s father who led Syria from 1971 to 2000.

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. — AFP