Bashar al-Assad’s uncle has £26m London property seized in fraud case

Rifaat al-Assad found guilty of acquiring millions worth of assets using funds diverted from Syria

Samuel Osborne
Wednesday 17 June 2020 14:05 BST
Rifaat al-Assad, the exiled uncle of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad
Rifaat al-Assad, the exiled uncle of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad (Arab News Network /AFP via Getty)

A French court has ordered the seizure of a £26m London property belonging to the uncle of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad after he was found guilty of fraud.

Rifaat al-Assad was found guilty of acquiring millions worth of property in France and London using funds diverted from the Middle Eastern state.

He was sentenced to four years in prison in France on Wednesday.

The court in Paris also ruled his property in France will be seized along with a property worth €29m (£26m) in London.

His lawyers said their client would appeal against the court’s verdict.

Rifaat al-Assad is a former military commander who is widely held responsible for crushing an Islamist uprising against then-president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, in 1982. Many thousands were killed in the conflict.

He has lived in exile, mostly in France, since the mid-1980s, after being accused of trying to seize power from his brother.

French judicial authorities suspected him of having unduly acquired real estate in several countries between 1984 and 2016 with funds from Syria.

He repeatedly denied the allegations and said he acquired his wealth as a gift from the Saudi king.

The French court also ordered him to pay €30,000 (£27,000) to the anti-corruption organisations Sherpa and Transparency International France, which first filed a legal complaint against him in 2013.

“This ruling shows that nobody escapes justice and there is no impunity,” Sherpa’s lawyer Vincent Brengarth told reporters.

Among the properties that will be seized is a mansion on the prestigious Avenue Foch in Paris.

“It’s an extremely harsh decision that seems unjustified,” Assad’s lawyer Benjamin Grundler told reporters. “There are no funds of Syrian origin in this case. All funds are legitimate.”

Assad will not be sent to prison pending the appeal.

In 2017, Spanish authorities seized more than 500 properties in Spain from him, worth about €700m (£623m), as part of a Franco-Spanish money-laundering operation.

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