Syria’s Assad allows exiled uncle to return to avoid prison

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President Bashar Assad allowed his exiled uncle to escape a four-year prison sentence in France to return to Syria, a pro-government newspaper reported late Friday.

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Rifat Assad, 83, was sentenced last year for illegally using Syrian state funds to build a French real estate empire. The trial was held in his absence for medical reasons and his lawyer appealed the verdict.

There was no immediate comment from France. Only al-Watan, a pro-Syrian state newspaper, reported the return of Assad, who had fled Syria in 1984 after a failed coup attempt against his brother, the late President Hafez Assad.


Al-Watan said that President Bashar Assad has forgiven his uncle. It did not provide any further details.

It was a dramatic fall out between the brothers. Rifat Assad had served as a vice president and a top commander in the Syrian army.

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Human rights groups alleged that he nicknamed him “the butcher of Hama” after he oversaw a 1982 insurgency crushing attack in the west-central Syrian province of Hama Rifat Assad, refusing any role in what came to be known as the Hama massacre. was denied. He has also been linked to the killing of hundreds of prisoners in Lebanon in the 1980s and early 1980s, and the mistreatment of the Syrian military.

Al-Watan said Rifat Assad returned on Thursday, adding that unnamed sources revealed that he was allowed to return after serving a prison sentence and the seizure of his properties in Europe.

Transparency International and the French anti-corruption group Sherpa filed a complaint in 2013 accusing Rifat Assad of using shell companies in tax havens to launder public money from Syria to France. His French holdings, which include several dozen apartments and two luxury townhouses in Paris, are valued at 90 million euros ($99.5 million). Monitoring groups say the amount is more than what Syria’s vice president and military commander could have earned.

Assad, convicted of money laundering and misappropriation of public funds, denied wrongdoing. He said the money that allowed him to buy his French real estate came from generous gifts from his 16 children and Saudi royals.

Rifat is also being investigated in Switzerland for war crimes related to the 1982 Hama massacre.

The late President Hafez Assad allowed his younger brother to return to Syria briefly in the 1990s to attend his mother’s funeral. But Rifat Assad was quickly declared a non-person and was forced to leave because he was seen as a threat to the succession plan from father to son.

Rifat Assad questioned the constitutionality of Bashar Assad’s coming to power in 2000 and opposed his government from abroad. But he is believed to have had no political weight among the opposition, which had a deep distrust for the ambitious former military commander.

Credit: / Bashar Assad

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