This is the second case of “ill-gotten gains” judged by the French courts, after that concerning the vice-president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodorin Obiang. The Paris Court of Appeal confirmed, Thursday, September 9, the conviction of Rifaat Al-Assad, uncle of the Syrian leader, Bashar Al-Assad, to four years of imprisonment for having fraudulently constituted in France an estate valued at 90 million euros.

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The 84-year-old former vice-president of Syria, who has lived in exile since 1984, was found guilty of organized money laundering and embezzlement of Syrian public funds, between 1996 and 2016. Absent in the statement of the ‘judgment, he had not attended the trial.

As in the first instance, the one who presents himself today as an opponent of his nephew Bashar Al-Assad, in power since 2000 in Damascus, sees all the real estate concerned confiscated by the courts. His defense immediately announced a cassation appeal.

Read the op-ed: “Return” ill-gotten gains “to the populations of the countries of origin, the first victims of the corruption of their leaders”

In this case, justice seized two mansions, dozens of apartments in Paris, an estate with a castle and stud farm in the Val-d’Oise as well as offices in Lyon, to which can be added 8.4 million euros corresponding to goods sold. These assets were held by Rifaat Al-Assad and his relatives through companies in Panama, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.

The defendant absent from his trial

Like the criminal court in June 2020, the court of appeal considered that the defendant’s fortune came in particular from the Syrian state coffers, in particular from funds that his brother Hafez Al-Assad had agreed to release in exchange for his exile.

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Rifaat Al-Assad, now a British resident, was also convicted of aggravated tax fraud laundering, as well as covert work by domestic workers. On the other hand, he was acquitted of facts covering the period 1984-1996, for legal reasons.

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Over the course of the two trials, his defense argued that Rifaat Al-Assad’s money had an origin “Perfectly lawful” : a “Massive aid” of the crown prince then king of Saudi Arabia, Abdallah, between the 1980s and his death, in 2015.

The defendant was absent from the two trials, prevented for medical reasons, according to his defense. Former head of the elite internal security forces, the “Defense Brigades”, Rifaat Al-Assad was at the heart of the Damascus regime, participating in the Hama massacre in 1982, perpetrated to suppress an Islamist insurgency. After a failed coup, he left Syria in 1984 with 200 people, and settled in Switzerland and then in France.

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