A Spanish court has frozen dozens of bank accounts, carried out raids and seized property worth around $737 million as part of an investigation into the finances of Rifaat Al-Assad, the uncle of Syrian regime leader Bashar Al-Assad, the court said in a statement today.
The investigation is looking into alleged “money laundering by criminal organisations”, tied to the uncle of the Syrian leader, it said. The raids come less than a year after Rifaat faced an investigation in France for money-laundering and tax fraud.
Rifaat was once vice-president of Syria during the reign of his brother, Hafez Al-Assad, Bashar’s father. Later, in the 1980s, his brother expelled him from the country, fearing he would mount a coup.
When he left, evidence suggests that he took with him “$300 million from the coffers of the Syrian state,” according to the Spanish court’s statement. With that money, he moved to France, where he started buying property.
A French investigation found that Rifaat had around €90 million in assets in France. In 2016, French investigators also discovered that he also had important assets around Marbella, Spain, in the names of corporations managed by his relatives.
Read more: France seizes Assad family property in Paris
The Spanish court said that in its investigation so far, it found 503 properties in Spain that belong to Rifaat and his relatives, with a total value of €691 million ($737 million). “All of the properties have been seized by the judge,” says the statement.
Although there were no arrests, 15 people related to Rifaat have been put under investigation, including two of his official wives, six of his children, daughters-in-law and a Spanish citizen who was working for the family, says the statement. In total, 76 bank accounts have been frozen.