Graft trial for Syrian President Assad’s uncle opens in Paris

Rifaat al-Assad, the uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is going to trial in Paris, where he stands accused of illegally using Syrian state funds to build a French real estate empire.(AP)
Updated 09 December 2019

Graft trial for Syrian President Assad’s uncle opens in Paris

  • Lawyers for Rifaat Assad cited health problems as the reason for his absence
  • He is dubbed the “Butcher of Hama” for allegedly commanding troops that put down an uprising in central Syria in 1982

PARIS: Syrian President Bashar Assad’s uncle went on trial in Paris Monday on charges of pilfering Syrian state coffers and using the spoils to build a property empire in France.
The dock was empty as the hearing got underway, with lawyers for 82-year-old Rifaat Assad citing health problems as the reason for his absence.
“His doctors have recommended that he avoids all stressful situations,” lawyer Pierre Cornut-Gentille told the Paris court.
Rifaat Assad, dubbed the “Butcher of Hama” for allegedly commanding troops that put down an uprising in central Syria in 1982, has been under investigation in France since 2014.
This year, an investigating magistrate ordered he stand trial on charges of organized money laundering related to his 90-million-euro ($99.5-million) property portfolio in France.
The trial of the younger brother of Syrian ex-president Hafez Assad — the current president’s father — is scheduled to last until December 18.
It concerns crimes allegedly committed between 1984 and 2016, including aggravated tax fraud and misappropriation of Syrian funds.
Assad, who splits his time between France and Britain, denies the charges.
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.
After he arrived in Europe, Rifaat Assad’s lavish lifestyle, four wives, and 16 children soon raised eyebrows.
His reported French fortune includes two Paris townhouses, one measuring 3,000 square meters (32,000 square feet), as well as a stud farm, a chateau and 7,300 square meters 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 has maintained that his lifestyle was made possible by gifts from the Saudi royal family that amounted to more than a million dollars per month.
But despite documents from Assad’s lawyers meant to justify gifts of almost $25 million between 1984 and 2010, French investigators registered transfers of only $10 million from Saudi Arabia.
This is only the second trial of a foreign dignitary in France on charges related to “ill-gotten gains.”
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.
Paris has long been a favored destination for the corrupt gains of wealthy figures linked to political leaders in Africa, particularly in France’s former colonies.


Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

Updated 06 August 2020

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

  • Security crackdown as more than 7,400 candidates contest twice-delayed election

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka went to the polls on Wednesday to elect 225 members to its 9th Parliament amid tight security and health precautions to limit the coronavirus pandemic.

The polls were twice-delayed after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the assembly in March and postponed polls scheduled for April due to the outbreak, before finally deciding on Aug. 5 as the date for general elections.

Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Sri Lanka Elections Commission (EC), said police had been given “shooting orders” in case of security breaches and strict health protocols had been introduced at polling booths.

Deshapriya said that all 12,985 polling booths had been sanitized as a preventive measure.

The elections were completed at an estimated cost of $48.6 million, up from the $37.8 million spent during last year’s presidential polls.

Speaking to Arab News on Wednesday, Samuel Ratnajeevan Hoole, an EC member, said that a 60 percent turnout by noon was a “good sign of voters’ response.”

“Our voters are matured and informed now, and they will choose whom they want irrespective of any racial or religious differences,” he said, adding that there were fewer poll-related complaints this year compared with previous elections.

There were 46 registered political parties and 313 independent groups vying for the 225-seat parliament, with a total of 7,452 candidates in the fray – 3,652 fielded by 46 parties and 3,800 representing 313 independent groups.

According to the EC, nearly 16,263,885 registered voters could make their choice at the elections.

At this election, 196 members are to be elected at the district level under the proportional representation system to the 225-member parliament, while 29 members will be chosen from the National List. Under the 1978 constitution, the members are elected to the 9th Parliament.

Dr. Ruwan Wijemuni, general director of health services in Colombo, credited the voters for “lending their cooperation in full to make it a grand success.” At the same time, police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said there were no reports of violence from any part of the island.

“There were minor scuffles on the eve of the polls in some parts of the island which were settled then and there,” he added.

Ismathul Rahman, 57, from the coastal town of Negombo, told Arab News that this year people were “keen to elect the right people” for their respective electorate as it was “crucial for the country’s economy.”

“It was a peaceful poll without any remarkable incidents of violence. The EC has managed the show well,” said Khalid Farook, 70, former president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, Wednesday.