- This year, the French judiciary ordered Rifaat to be tried for money laundering by building a €90 million ($99.55 million) real estate empire in France.
- Rifaat Al-Assad asserts that he collected his wealth from donations from the Saudi Royal Family, amounting to more than $1 million per month.
- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's sister, Bushra Al-Assad, is also subject to EU sanctions.
The uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Rifaat al-Assad, is on trial in France in a case of “unlawful enrichment.” The trial began Monday in the French capital, Paris. Assad is accused of building a real estate empire in France from Syrian public funds. Rifaat al-Assad was one of the former pillars of the Assad regime, and the commander of the “Defense Brigades,” a special force that was instrumental in the devastating attack on the city of Hama in central Syria in 1982.
This year, the French judiciary ordered Rifaat to be tried for money laundering by building a €90 million ($99.55 million) real estate empire in France. However, the defendant’s seat in the court was empty, as defense attorneys for Rifaat al-Assad, 82, told AFP that the younger brother of the late Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad, was absent “for medical reasons.”
The trial, which is expected to continue until December 18, relates to “money laundering within the framework of an organized gang” for aggravated tax fraud, and embezzlement of Syrian public funds between 1984 and 2016. Rifaat al-Assad was forced to leave Syria in exile in 1984, after he led a failed coup against his brother, who ruled Syria from 1971 until his death in 2000. He has since lived in Britain and France.
During his stay in Europe with his four wives, his 16 children, and entourage numbering about two hundred people, he collected real estate wealth that raised doubts. In France alone, Rifaat Al-Assad owns two palaces and about forty apartments in upscale neighborhoods of the capital. He also owns a palace with a horse farm in Val-d’Oise, near Paris and offices in Lyon. His real estate empire even reaches the UK’s Gibraltar, and in Spain. He has more than 500 properties valued at $691 million that were confiscated in 2017.
Rifaat Al-Assad asserts that he collected his wealth from donations from the Saudi Royal Family, amounting to more than $1 million per month. However, despite his lawyer providing documents proving that he had received grants of approximately $25 million between 1984 and 2010, investigators recorded transfers of only $10 million from Saudi Arabia.
In March 2014, the European Tribunal upheld sanctions that the European Union had approved against Bushra Al-Assad, sister of the Syrian president. Bushra Al-Assad is also the widow of former Deputy Chief of Staff Asif Shawkat. Bushra Al-Assad was included on the list of sanctions adopted by the European Union against Syria, which is the prevention of visas and the freezing of assets. Bushra al-Assad’s money was frozen inside the European Union, and she was prevented from entering or transiting through the territories of the EU member states. Bushra al-Assad is demanding the European decision be canceled.