The uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was sentenced to four years in a French prison after a Paris court found him guilty of money laundering and aggravated tax fraud.
Rifaat al-Assad, 82, was convicted of embezzling Syrian public funds to expand his vast property portfolio in France, where he lives in exile. The court ordered the forfeiture of his estimated $113 million worth of French real estate assets, including two Paris townhouses, a chateau and a number of lavish apartments.
Assad denies any wrongdoing and his legal team says it will mount an appeal. He claims his vast fortune was gifted to him by the Saudi royal family and other deep-pocketed supporters. He also owned a large number of properties in Spain that were seized in 2017.
The former Syrian vice president fled to Europe in 1984 after a failed attempt at overthrowing his brother, then-President Hafez al-Assad. Before that, he earned the nickname the “Butcher of Hama” for his role overseeing the killing of thousands in a 1982 uprising in central Syria. He denies any involvement.
The ruling came the same day the United States announced a new round of sweeping sanctions on the Assad family and other regime insiders. Included in the latest designations were first lady Asma al-Assad and the president’s brother, Maher al-Assad.
“We anticipate many more sanctions and we will not stop until Assad and his regime stop their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
The sanctions hit as Syria’s currency dropped to record lows this month. President Assad blames the pound’s steep collapse on the new sanctions, but experts say mounting war debts, a financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon and the regime’s own mismanagement of the economy are the primary reasons for the economic devastation.