Paris, 9 September 2021 – Today the Court of Appeal confirmed the judgment rendered by the Judicial Tribunal of Paris on June 17, 2020, sentencing Rifaat Al-Assad to 4 years in prison and the confiscation of his assets located in France for organized laundering of embezzlement of public funds, after his trial held in his absence in December 2019.
Following a complaint filed in 2013 by Sherpa, French justice has investigated thoroughly the condition under which Bachar al Assad’s uncle had acquired over the years his tremendous wealth in France. At the end of an investigation of nearly five years, Rifaat al-Assad was convicted of embezzling Syrian state funds to accumulate considerable assets worth €90m and cleverly concealed through a network of shell companies spread across Europe and in tax havens.
Sherpa has a longstanding commitment to the fight against financial crime, and the dissimulation mechanisms of proceeds of crime and is at the forefront of the fight against ill-gotten gains. Sherpa, along with its partners, was at the origin of the historic trial of ill-gotten gains against Teodorin Obiang, vice-President of Equatorial Guinea, who was definitively condemned by the Supreme Court on July 28, 2021. The judicial saga involving Rifaat Al Assad constitutes a particularly symbolic element in the struggle against financial impunity and the diversion of resources to the detriment of the civilian population.
Only a few months after the creation of the very first stolen asset restitution mechanism in France, requiring French authorities to return all seized assets deriving from corruption to the spoliated populations, today’s decision is particularly encouraging.
According to Sandra Cossart, Sherpa’s Executive Director: “the decision rendered today constitutes a very positive signal after the 10-year long struggle led by NGOs against financial crime impunity. It is even more important that France, like other developed countries, harbors many of these illicit financial flows. It is therefore essential that France returns these proceeds of corruption to the deprived populations.“
Indeed, as in Teodorin Obiang’s Ill Gotten Gains, this case is a reminder of the importance of establishing a binding framework concerning the practical aspects of the restitution of assets resulting from grand corruption: the government must now specify the outlines of the mechanism created and ensure that assets are returned in the best interest of the spoliated population and that they do not fall back into the circuits of corruption.
We particularly insist on:
- Allocation of funds to projects in the areas of health, education, and good governance. The choice of projects must also consider proposals from civil society in the State of origin.
- the need to involve civil society from the State of origin as well as from the restituting State to cooperate with state actors to ensure the proper administration of restitutions.