Paris, October 11, 2021 – The Syrian regime’s former dignitary recently sentenced in France to 4 years in prison for laundering Syrian public funds in an organised gang is said to have fled to Syria where he was welcomed by his nephew, President Bachar Al Assad.
Following a complaint filed in 2013 by the NGO Sherpa, the courts were able to demonstrate that Rifaat Al Assad had, at the time of his alleged exile from Syria, illegally benefitted from Syrian public resources cleverly concealed through a network of shell companies located in Europe and tax havens.
In September, the Court of Appeal confirmed the first instance judgment of the Paris judicial court of 17 June 2020 and thus sentenced Rifaat Al-Assad to 4 years in prison and the confiscation of his assets located in France.
This decision, which coincided with the creation in France, of a mechanism for the restitution of assets resulting from grand transnational corruption to victim populations, gave reasons to believe that France had made the fight against impunity and corruption one of its priorities. However, the recent report of Rifaat Al Assad’s escape to Syria is an alarming signal about France’s commitment to the anti-corruption fight.
Indeed, although all the assets acquired illegally in France have been seized, the French justice system has also sentenced the man known as the “Butcher of Hamah” to a prison term. We therefore question the conditions that made his escape possible, which constitutes a failure on France’s part to meet its international commitments to fight and punish corruption effectively.
We reiterate that grand corruption is not a “victimless crime” and there is a pressing need for the victims of corruption abroad to be recognised and compensated. This is only conceivable if those convicted cannot escape their responsibilities and the application of the sentences pronounced against them. Until recently, France was proud that its courts had struck a blow against the impunity of a kleptocrat. Nevertheless, the fact that a convicted politician can escape from justice is a dramatic blow to France’s efforts to fight transnational corruption. Moreover, the flight of Rifaat Al Assad to Syria and his reception by the current Syrian president demonstrates that it is urgent that the framework for the restitution of assets put in place by France considers the risk that the returned assets will fall back into the corruption circuit. The government must be totally vigilant in this matter.
Finally, Rifaat Al-Assad still holds France’s highest honorary decoration. Sherpa asks once again the President of the Republic, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, to request the Grand Chancellor of the Order of the Legion of Honour to withdraw the Legion of Honour from him.
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