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Assad's uncle on trial in France for fraud

Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad's uncle is to go on trial in the French capital of Paris today on charges of establishing a property business empire using official funds of from the Syrian state.

Rifaat Al-Assad, also known as the 'Butcher of Hama' due to his role of commanding troops to crush the 1982 uprising in the Syrian city, has been subject to an investigation in France since 2014. His trial was finalised this year when a magistrate investigating his case ordered that he stands trial for organised money laundering in order to build a property company in France worth 90 million euros ($99.5 million).

The 82-year-old Rifaat Al-Assad, however, will reportedly miss the trial due to "medical reasons," according to his lawyers who informed the French news agency AFP.

Scheduled to last until 18 December, the trial includes charges of aggravated tax fraud and misappropriation of funds from Syria, all between the years of 1984 and 2016.

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Assad has denied all of the charges, and had claimed that his lavish lifestyle – split between France and the UK – has been made possible by gifts given by the Saudi royal family, which allegedly amounted to over $1 million per month.

The investigators in France have only registered transfers from Saudi Arabia of $10 million, despite the claims of Assad's lawyers that it was $25 million provided between 1984 and 2010.

This lifestyle, in which Rifaat's four wives and sixteen children benefited from, consisted of multiple properties around France such as three Paris townhouses and office space and a chateau in Lyon. To add to this, he has built up a huge property portfolio of 507 properties in Spain valued at approximately 695 million euros, which were all seized by the authorities in 2018.

This trial also comes after similar cases against Rifaat have been launched throughout Europe, with the UK having frozen his assets in 2017 and Switzerland having imposed a trial on charges of war crimes in the same year. Spain also announced last month that it will be pursuing a trial against him for money laundering.

Rifaat Al-Assad, a former Vice President of Syria, left the country in 1984 following his failed coup attempt against his brother Hafez Al-Assad, who ruled from 1971 to 2000 and was the father of the current President of the Syrian regime Bashar Al-Assad.

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