A French court on Wednesday sentenced Syrian President Bashar Assad’s uncle to four years in prison for money laundering.
Rifaat Assad was found to have embezzled public funds in Syria, laundered the money and built a vast property portfolio in France.
The 82-year-old is unlikely to serve the full sentence given his age and remains free pending an appeal. The court also ordered the seizure of his French real estate assets, valued at €90 million ($100 million).
He was accused of committing crimes between 1984 and 2016, including aggravated tax fraud and misappropriation of Syrian funds.
The Paris court dismissed charges for alleged crimes between 1984 and 1996, but found him guilty of organized laundering of stolen Syrian funds between 1996 and 2016 as well as tax fraud.
Assad against Assad
His property empire in France includes two Parisian townhouses, a stud farm, about 40 apartments, and a chateau. One of his mansions in Paris is more than 3,000 square meters (32,000 square feet).
He and his family also own at least 507 properties in Spain, valued at around €695 million, according to Spanish legal documents. Spanish authorities seized all his property in that country in 2017 under similar allegations. Authorities in the UK also seized one of his properties in London.
After putting down an uprising in central Syria in 1982, he was dubbed the “Butcher of Hama.” He is the younger brother of the late Syrian president Hafez Assad, who was the father of the current Syrian president.
He also has alleged links to the 1980 killings of hundreds of prisoners and Syrian army abuses in Lebanon in the 1970s and early 1980s.
He left Syria in 1984 after leading a failed coup against his brother Hafez. He now says he is opposed to the current regime of his nephew.
Legion of Honor for the Butcher of Hama
The court said on Wednesday that his crimes were of “exceptional severity,” and pointed to “consistent evidence of the misappropriation of public funds at the expense of the Syrian state and for the exclusive benefit of Rifaat Assad.”
His lawyers rejected the allegations, saying he had taken “not a penny” from Syria.
The case was brought against him after anti-corruption group Sherpa filed a suit in 2013 along with Transparency International.
Sherpa said in a statement: “This decision is of particular importance in the current Syrian context and underscores the urgency of establishing a French legal framework for the restitution of looted assets.”
It called on the French government to withdraw Assad’s Legion of Honor, the highest French decoration, which he was awarded in 1986 for “services rendered” to the country.