PARIS — A Paris court will give its verdict on Wednesday in a trial on money laundering charges for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's uncle, who amassed a fortune in France over several decades.
Rifaat al-Assad, 82, may not be in the dock for judgement, having been hospitalised last December during his trial with internal bleeding.
The younger brother of the late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad - father of the incumbent president - is standing trial in Paris for crimes allegedly committed between 1984 and 2016, including aggravated tax fraud and misappropriation of Syrian funds.
France's national finance prosecutor has sought a four-year prison sentence and a 10-million-euro fine, and has called for the confiscation of all Assad's real estate, valued at 90 million euros (US$99.5 million).
Assad, who divides his time between France and Britain, denies the charges.
The 82-year-old, dubbed the "Butcher of Hama" for allegedly commanding troops who put down an uprising in central Syria in 1982, has been under investigation in France since 2014.
This came the year after anti-corruption group Sherpa filed a suit accusing Assad of using ill-gotten gains from corruption in Syria to build a real estate fortune in the country.
Formerly Syria's vice president, Assad left his home country in 1984 after mounting a failed coup against his brother Hafez, who led Syria from 1971 to 2000.
Today, he describes himself as an opponent of the regime of his nephew.
After he arrived in Europe, Rifaat al-Assad's lavish lifestyle, four wives and 16 children soon raised eyebrows.
His reported French fortune includes two Paris townhouses, one measuring 3,000sq.m, as well as a stud farm, a chateau and 7,300sq.m of office space in Lyon.
He and his family also built up a huge portfolio of 507 properties in Spain, valued at around 695 million euros, Spanish legal documents show. All his properties in that country were seized by the authorities in 2017.
Assad, awarded France's Legion of Honour in 1986 for "services rendered", insists his lifestyle was made possible by gifts from the Saudi royal family amounting to more than a million dollars per month.
But while his lawyers claimed to document gifts of almost $25 million between 1984 and 2010, French investigators registered transfers from Saudi Arabia totalling only $10 million.
Assad's trial opened on December 9 last year.
This is only the second trial of a foreign dignitary in France on charges of "ill-gotten gains".
In the first, Equatorial Guinea vice president Teodorin Obiang received a three-year suspended jail term in October 2017 after being convicted of using public money to fund a jet-set lifestyle in Paris. — AFP