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Assad's uncle hired Israeli lawyers on graft case in France

Rifaat al-Assad is known as the 'Butcher of Hama' [Twitter]

Date of publication: 18 July, 2020

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Rifaat al-Assad hired Israeli lawyers before being sentenced to prison for embezzlement.
The uncle of Syria President Bashar al-Assad hired Israeli lawyers before he was sentenced to four years in prison and had all his property confiscated for embezzlement.

Rifaat al-Assad, also known as the "butcher of Hama", was sentenced on Friday to four years in prison by a French court after it found that 82-year-old had embezzled funds from the Syrian state to buy homes and offices worth 90 million euros ($101 million).

Israeli media reported that he hired Israeli lawyers and advisors, including a former Mossad chief and a former lawmaker who was in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.

According to a report by Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Rifaat hired and continues to hire Israeli nationals for his case, including lawyer Mordechai Tzivin, and attorney Gilles William Goldnadel. 

Goldnadel now works as an adviser to an unidentified Israeli figure. According to the newspaper, Assad met a former chief of the Mossad several years ago at his apartment in France.

Read also: To protect and punish - Can Caesar Act sanctions avoid harming Syrians, too? 

Although the report did not reveal the identity of the Knesset member or the former Mossad chief, it said that among the Israeli advisors who Assad used to use their services is a well-known Israeli lawyer and an Israeli businessman with a German passport.

Rifaat is currently free pending an appeal. However, the court confiscated his property assets in France, valued at about €90 million ($100 million).

'Butcher and thief'

Rifaat was formerly a top military commander in Syria under the rule of his older 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's rule.

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.

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