Rights group calls for millions confiscated from Assad’s uncle to be given to Syrians
A Syrian human rights organization has called for the vast wealth of the recently jailed uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to be transferred to Syrian victims of conflict.
82-year-old Rifaat Al-Assad was formerly a military commander under the rule of his late brother Hafez, and held responsible for the 1982 Hama Massacre, in which an estimated 30,000 people were killed by the Assad regime.
After attempting a coup against Hafez in 1984 he was exiled from Syria and lived in France, Spain, and the UK.
He was sentenced by a French court on Wednesday to four years in prison and confiscation of all his property in France and the UK for embezzling funds from the Syrian state.
In a statement sent to The New Arab on Thursday, the Syrian Human Rights Committee, which is based in London, said that the “French legal procedures against Rifaat Al-Assad were delayed and not enough and Rifaat Al-Assad should be tried for crimes against humanity and the Syrian people.”
The statement said that “tens of thousands of people were killed and cities and villages were destroyed” as a result of Rifaat’s actions and that he had stolen his money from Syrian public funds.
“The Syrian Committee for Human Rights calls for the funds confiscated [from Rifaat] to be transferred to the victims of the crimes of Rifaat al-Assad and his Defence Companies militia.”
The Defence Companies were an elite force commanded by Rifaat al-Assad, tasked with protecting the regime from internal threats. The committee added that many victims were still alive and willing to testify against Rifaat for crimes against humanity.
Rifaat al-Assad’s personal fortune is estimated to be in the billions. He claims to have received funds as a gift from the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who died in 2015.
He is held responsible for other massacres besides the one in Hama, including the 1980 Tadmor Prison Massacre, in which the Defence Companies killed over a thousand prisoners in revenge for an assassination attempt on Hafez al-Assad by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
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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 latest decision by the court in France seizes all Rifaat’s property in France and the UK, worth 90 million euros ($100 million), 29 million euros ($33 million) of which is in the UK. Rifaat was also fined 10 million euros and his lawyers will appeal the court ruling.
The Syrian Human Rights Committee criticized the court’s delay in bringing the case to trial, saying that the French anti-corruption organization Sherpa had raised a case against Rifaat in 2013, and French courts had not opened it until 2018.
The SHRC added that political reasons may have been behind the delay, noting that Rifaat is well-connected to Arab governments and rulers.
“[Former Syrian President] Hafez al-Assad protected his brother after sending him into exile so that he and his oppressive regime would not be blamed for [Rifaat’s] crimes and Rifaat also benefited from the protection of Arab regimes and personalities because of ties of friendship and marriage.”
The ageing former regime military commander married multiple times and his children have also married into prominent Arab families. The sister of one of his wives was married to the late Saudi King Abdullah.
He has never been tried for any of the massacres he is alleged to have committed in Syria.