Paris, 17 June 2020 – The Paris court sentenced Rifaat Al-Assad, uncle of Syrian ruler Bashar Al-Assad, to 4 years in prison in particular for organised laundering of embezzlement of public funds after his trial held in his absence in December 2019.
Following the confirmation of Teodorin Obiang’s conviction by the Paris Court of Appeal in February 2020, this ruling is part of the judicial saga of “ill-gotten gains” initiated by Sherpa against the laundering of the misappropriation of resources to the detriment of defrauded populations.
The National Financial Prosecutor’s Office took up this case following a complaint with a civil claim filed on 13 September 2013 by Sherpa. The court acknowledged that the man known as the Butcher of Hamah, for the massacre of 10,000 opponents of the Syrian regime in the 1980s, had fraudulently built up considerable real estate assets on the French soil. His assets are valued 90 million euros, and Rifaat Al Assad was not able to justify their lawful origin before French courts.
Since fallen out of favour with the Al Assad’s regime, the former head of the Syrian “Defense Companies”, Rifaat Al Assad, has been in exile since 1984. Since his arrival in France, he has gathered considerable wealth (nearly 90 million euros in France and 600 million euros at the European level). In France, he owns notably a 3000 square meters mansion on Avenue Foch, in Paris, and a castle with a stud farm in Bessancourt, north of Paris. Their beneficial ownership was concealed thanks to shell companies established in tax havens that preserved the anonymity of their owners. The court today ordered the forfeiture of his assets.
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.
The NGOs Sherpa and Transparency International France call on the government to speed up the drafting of the law on the restitution of assets so that it can be discussed in Parliament as soon as possible. A specific law is all the more urgent since the successive convictions in cases of ill-gotten property bring us closer to the ultimate goal of the NGOs involved in these legal proceedings: the restitution of assets to the populations whose property was looted. Restitution can only be exemplary, at the risk that these ill-gotten assets could fall back into the channels of corruption and become poorly returned property.
Rifaat Al Assad’s conviction following Sherpa’s complaint highlights the importance of civil action by associations in the fight against corruption. Rifaat Al Assad, Obiang, Sassou Nguesso, Bongo, the NGOs Sherpa and Transparency interna-tional France are indeed at the origin of several legal proceedings in cases of ill-gotten gains. Indeed, NGOs play a key role in defending the general interest and thus participate in the demand for access to justice for victims of economic crimes.
Finally, Rifaat Al-Assad, still retains the highest French honorary decoration. Sherpa asks the President of the Republic, Mr Emmanuel Macron, to refer the matter to the Grand Chancellor of the Order of the Legion of Honour with a view to having the Legion of Honour withdrawn from him.
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