French court reaffirms conviction of Syrian president's uncle on charges of financial crimes, corruption

Rifaat al-Assad had been convicted of money laundering and corrupt management of Syrian public funds for decades. He built up a fortune in France and Spain. The governments of the two countries seized most of it in recent years  

An appeals court in Paris reaffirmed on Thursday the conviction of the uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for misappropriating public funds in Syria, laundering the spoils and building a huge portfolio of properties in France with huge profits. 

The court also confirmed the sentence of four years in prison that was handed down last year to 84-year-old Rifaat al-Assad, who might not have to serve the sentence because of his advanced age.   

The confiscation of his French real estate properties, worth about 90 million euros ($106 million), which was ordered in his first trial, will now continue.   

Rifaat al-Assad, dubbed the "butcher of Hama" for commanding troops that put down an uprising in central Syria in 1982, has been investigated in France since 2014.   

The younger brother of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad was tried on charges of crimes suspected of being committed between 1984 and 2016, including major tax fraud and corrupt management of Syrian funds. 

In June, the court in Paris dismissed charges against al-Assad for the period of 1984-1996, but found him guilty of laundering money embezzled from Syrian public coffers between the years 1996 and 2016. He was also convicted of tax fraud.     

Rifaat, formerly vice president of Syria, left his country in 1984 after mounting a failed coup against his brother Hafez, who led Syria from 1971 until 2000.  

His French wealth includes two houses in upscale Parisian neighborhoods, a farm, about 40 apartments, and a chateau. Al-Assad and his family also built up a huge portfolio of assets in Spain worth about 695 million euros, which were all seized by the authorities in 2017. 

The attorneys for Al-Assad, who was awarded France's Legion of Honor medal in 1986, insisted that all of his money came from legal sources. The French case against Assad began with a lawsuit filed in 2013 by Sherpa, a French anti-corruption group. 

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