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French Court Sentences Exiled Uncle of Syrian President to Prison


FILE - Rifaat al-Assad, the exiled brother of Syria's late President Hafez al-Assad, is seen in a photo on the London-based Arab News Network (ANN) television station, June 12, 2000.
FILE - Rifaat al-Assad, the exiled brother of Syria's late President Hafez al-Assad, is seen in a photo on the London-based Arab News Network (ANN) television station, June 12, 2000.

The uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison on Wednesday by a French court for using diverted Syrian funds to buy millions of dollars in property in France and London.

Rifaat al-Assad, 82, had been exiled from Syria since the mid-1980s after accusations he tried to overthrow his brother, then-President Hafez al-Assad, the father of Syria's current president. He has spent most of his exile in France.

The French court ordered the seizure of all of Assad's illegally acquired French property, estimated to be worth more than $100 million, as well as one in London worth more than $30 million.

Assad will also be required to pay more than $30,000 to the anti-corruption organizations, Sherpa and Transparency International France, which had first filed a legal complaint against him in 2013.

French authorities had suspected him of acquiring vast amounts of property in several countries between 1984 and 2016.

In 2017, Spanish authorities seized Assad's $700 million in Spanish properties as part of a Franco-Spanish money-laundering operation.

Assad has maintained that all his funds from Syria were legitimate.

His lawyer, Benjamin Grundler, called the French court's ruling "harsh" and "unjustified."

"There are no funds of Syrian origin in this case," Grundler said to reporters. "All funds are legitimate."

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