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The New Arab Staff

French court sentences Assad’s exiled uncle to four years, confiscation of property for embezzling funds

Rifaat al-Assad has been called the ‘Butcher of Hama’ [Twitter]

Date of publication: 17 June, 2020

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A court in France has sentenced Rifaat Al-Assad, dubbed the ‘Butcher of Hama’, to four years in prison and confiscation of all property for embezzling Syrian state funds.

The estranged uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been sentenced to four years in prison and had all his property confiscated, following a French court ruling on Wednesday.

The court found that 82-year-old Rifaat al-Assad had embezzled funds from the Syrian state to buy homes and offices worth 90 million euros ($101 million).

The ageing former Syrian vice-president was hospitalised after his trial started in December 2019 due to internal bleeding.

All Rifaat's property in France and the UK will be seized as a result of the court's verdict.

Rifaat Al-Assad was formerly a top military commander in Syria under the rule of his brother Hafez.

He presided over the Defence Companies, an elite paramilitary force tasked with defending the Assad regime’s rule of Syria, in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Rifaat has been called "the Butcher of Hama" for his commanding role in the infamous 1982 massacre in the city of Hama. Approximately 30,000 people were killed as the Defence Companies and other regime military units violently suppressed a revolt against Hafez al-Assad’s rule.

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In 1984, he made an unsuccessful attempt to seize power from Hafez and was forced into exile in France and Spain after being given the honorific title of vice-president of Syria, which he was stripped of in 1998.

Rifaat’s personal fortune, which is allegedly at least in part stolen from the Syrian state, is estimated to be in the billions. He claims to have received much of his vast wealth as a gift from former Saudi King Abdullah, who died in 2015.

In 2017, a Spanish court seized $736 million worth of his assets, including luxury homes and rural estates after he was placed under investigation for fraud in France. Rifaat owned over 500 properties in Spain in total.

The 90 million euros worth of property that will be seized from Rifaat include 29 million euros of assets in London, where some of Rifaat’s family live.

Rifaat’s lawyers say he will appeal the verdict.


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