Bashar Al Assad’s uncle on trial in France on money laundering charges

Rifaat Al Assad has built a multi-million-dollar property empire in Europe

Rifaat Assad, an exiled uncle of Syrian president Bashar Assad, answers the Associated Press, Tuesday Nov. 15, 2011 in Paris.(AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The uncle of Syria's President Bashar Al Assad went on trial in Paris on Monday on charges that he laundered Syrian state funds to build a multi-million-dollar property portfolio in France.

Rifaat Al Assad, who is accused of being behind the 1982 Hama massacre in which as many as 40,000 people killed, allegedly committed a host of crimes including tax fraud and misappropriation of funds between 1984 and 2016.

The 82-year-old is not expected to appear in the dock and will miss the trial because of medical reasons.

"His doctors have recommended that he avoids all stressful situations," lawyer Pierre Cornut-Gentille told the Paris court.

His brother, Hafez Al Assad, ruled Syria from 1971 to 2000 and was succeeded by his son, Bashar.

Rifaat left Syria in 1984 after mobilising his supporters to mount a failed coup against his brother. He now divides his time between the UK and France, and his four marriages have given him 16 children.

The sister of one his wives married the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Rifaat's property empire is believed to be worth about $100 million (Dh367.3m) and includes two Paris townhouses, a chateau and a large office space in Syria.

Two years ago, a Spanish high court confiscated more than €600m (Dh2.43 billion) of assets linked to him amid similar charges. Last month a Spanish judge announced he wanted to try Rifaat , eight of his children and two of his wives.

Judge Jose de la Mata said that since the mid-1980s, Rifaat had invested money siphoned from the Syrian state into property and business ventures in Spain. The goal was to conceal and launder the funds.

Mr del la Mata said that the ploy was successful through "the sharing out of tasks and the perfect co-ordination between all the members of the organisation: the father and leader, Rifaat Ali Al Assad, was concealed behind all the others".

The judge also said that Rifaat illegally obtained money in the 1970s from extortion, drug trafficking and the theft of archaeological items.

Rifaat has maintained that his lifestyle was made possible by gifts from the Saudi royal family that amounted to more than $1m per month but French investigators said his explanation does not add up.

He was investigated in Switzerland for his role in the Hama and Tadmor massacres in the early 1980s as the commander of an elite Syrian unit.