France has had its highest civil and military award sent back by the uncle of Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad, AFP has reported. Rifaat Al-Assad returned the prestigious Légion d'honneur because, his lawyer explained, he feels that France has "failed" him.
"Rifaat Al-Assad feels that France has failed him, a country that he valued so much and provided many services to, which earned him the Legion of Honour, the highest honour in our country," said Elie Hatem. "Disappointment prompted him to return this medal to France."
The highest court in France confirmed a ruling last week that Rifaat Al-Assad was guilty of acquiring millions of euros worth of French property using funds diverted from the Syrian state, Reuters reported. The verdict by the Cour de Cassation followed a long legal process marked by various appeals. It confirmed a four-year prison sentence handed to the Syrian president's uncle, who returned to Syria last October after losing access to his financial resources in France.
"The assets held by Rifaat Al-Assad in France seized during the proceedings will definitely be confiscated", said Sherpa, a France-based group of human rights lawyers whose criminal complaint in 2013 triggered the proceedings.
Assad, 85, had lived in exile, mostly in France, since the mid-1980s, after being accused of trying to seize power from his brother, the then President Hafez Al-Assad, Bashar's father. He is also being pursued in Switzerland on suspicion of committing war crimes when he had a role in the killing of up to 40,000 civilians in 1982 as the commander of the Defence Brigades which crushed an Islamist uprising.
The French judicial authorities suspected him of having acquired real estate in several countries unduly between 1984 and 2016 with funds from Syria. He denied the allegations repeatedly and said that he acquired his wealth as a gift from the king of Saudi Arabia.